Hamamelis leaves come from the plant Hamamelis virginiana, a small deciduous tree or shrub common in the Northeastern United States and Canada that bears yellow flowers in the late fall giving the plant the common name “winterbloom”.
Hamamelis is widely used today in the form of a distilled extract sold as Witch Hazel, another common name for this plant. This astringent applied directly to the skin can relieve pain, stop bleeding, control itching, and reduce symptoms of eczema. It has also been used to treat muscle aches, varicose veins, and sores or bruises. Witch Hazel contains tannins that can coat proteins and provide a soothing effect. It also contain another class of compounds called flavonoids, which may have curative properties as well.
Hamamelis leaves are generally considered safe when applied externally as Witch Hazel or other preparations. However, patients should be more cautious when ingesting the plant because it contains small amounts of toxic compounds such as acetaldehyde and the carcinogen safrole. The high tannin concentration in the leaves and bark (>10%) can cause liver and kidney damage if ingested.
Moore, S. (2010, April 7). The Uses of Hamamelis virginiana. LiveStrong website: http://www.livestrong.com/article/102557-uses-hamamelis-virginiana/ (accessed November 6, 2012)
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Witch Hazel (2012) In A. DerMarderosian & J. A. Beutler (Eds.), The review of natural products. Accessed November 6, 2012.
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