What is Witch Hazel?

Witch Hazel Uses and Remedies

By George Lohmiller
October 30, 2018
Witch Hazel

Rate this Article: 

Average: 4 (84 votes)

Witch hazel is a shrub that blooms in late fall and can make for both a valuable landscaping plant and a helpful source of home remedies. Learn more about witch hazel below!

What is Witch Hazel?

For much of the year, American witch hazel, or winterbloom, is a shrub that grows mostly unnoticed along shaded stream banks and in damp woods from Georgia to southern Canada. Its light gray bark and rounded green leaves blend in well with its surroundings. Even when the leaves turn a dazzling clear yellow in the fall, their beauty is often lost in the colorful tangle of other plants.

Then witch hazel flowers—not in the spring, but in late October or November, or even early December. The fragrant, tasseled yellow blossoms often appear against a background of early snow. As the shrub blooms, its previous year’s fruit matures. The seed capsules explode with an audible pop, shooting their two hard, shiny black seeds several yards from the parent plant.

Why is it Called Witch Hazel?

The plant’s name does not refer to witchcraft, but comes from the Middle English word wych or wyche, meaning pliant or flexible, which is a reference to the plant’s very flexible branches. The “hazel” in the name comes from the plant’s similarity to the common hazelnut.


Witch Hazel in the Garden

If for no other reason than its time of bloom, witch hazel is a valuable landscaping plant—but choose its planting site carefully, because it may grow 25 feet tall and just as wide. Being shade tolerant, witch hazel is often used for naturalizing wooded areas, but it may be grown in full sun and actually develops brighter fall foliage when planted in the open. Its extreme cold hardiness and resistance to insects and disease make witch hazel a good choice for an easy-care planting.

Learn more about shrubs for fall landscaping.

Witch Hazel as a Natural Remedy

Native Americans used the plant’s springy wood to make bows. They also valued the shrub for its medicinal qualities, using the astringent leaves and bark to control bleeding and take the sting out of insect bites, and drinking the tea as a mild sedative.

The witch hazel that we find in the medicine cabinet today is made by distilling the bark of twigs and roots with alcohol, which creates a soothing lotion that reduces swelling and relieves aching joints. More than a million gallons of witch hazel are sold each year in the United States, making it one of the most popular natural remedies. Find out more about using witch hazel as a natural remedy.

Do you use witch hazel or have a witch hazel shrub in your garden? Let us know in the comments!


Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Witch Hazel Bushes

I had 3 witch hazel bushes put in last year and they are not doing well. They haven’t produced much foliage and now that it is fall I have no blossoms. They have not grown in height either. Could it be the clay soil?

Struggling Witch Hazel

The Editors's picture

It’s hard to say for sure why they’re not doing well, as there are a lot of things that factor in to a plant’s success in the garden. Clay soil could certainly be a culprit, however. Witch hazel prefers to grow in rich, moist soil in partial shade, but clay soil may be a step too far in the “compacted” direction.

Another factor could be the pH of the soil. Witch hazel grows best in slightly acidic soils, so if yours leans more towards basic, it could be prohibiting proper growth. 

We would recommend doing a soil test through your state’s cooperative extension, which will tell you what kind of soil you have already and what’s missing. They may also be able to give you more advice for getting your witch hazel back on track!


Are you in the US? I'm curious of what state, because I live in SC, and we have clay-ish type soil too.

Usin Witch Hazel lotion on my dog

My dog has a rash on his abdomen and on the area between his legs. I have discussed this with 3 Vets and none of them seems interested! The rash gets worse at times, and then sometimes almost goes away. The dog licks at it so it must be bothering him some. I have used Witch Hazel myself for years, and wondered if it would hurt to use it on the dog to try to relieve the condition. I would appreciate your reply. Thanks in advance.

witch hazel

I have used witch hazel for hemorrhoids. The doctors medicine was not reducing the swelling and he was talking about surgery. I looked in an old medical book I had and they talked about using witch hazel. After using it for 3 days they had shrunk by more than half. It made me a believer.


This is interesting;
What attracted the attention of witch hazel as an herbal product was a patent medicine developed in the mid 1800s. In the 1840's, Theron T. Pond of Utica, New York established an association with the Oneida Indians of the state. He learned from a medicine man that they held a shrub in high esteem for all types of burns, + boils. It was witch hazel. Pond learned as much as he could of the extract, and finally after several years, in 1848, Mr. Pond and the Medicine Man decided to market the extract, under the trade name "Golden Treasure". After several moves and sales of the company, a manufacturing facility was established in Connecticut, and after the death of Theron Pond, the name of the witch hazel preparation was changed to "Pond's Extract".
Witch Hazel Today
The witch hazel industry is still centered in Connecticut with the E. E. Dickinson Co., the T. N. Dickinson Co., and the American Distilling and Manufacturing Co., producing most of the witch hazel extract sold on the American market. Much of the harvest still comes from the woods of northwestern Connecticut, where landowners contract directly with the manufaturers. Harvest begins in the autumn. Branches are cut to the ground, but resprout, producing a new harvest in a few years. Portable chippers allow for on site processing. It is then taken to the factories for distillation in stainless-steel vats. The witch hazel is steam distilled for thirty-six hours, then re-heated, condensed and filtered.


BONUS: You’ll also receive our Almanac Companion newsletter!

The Almanac Webcam

Chosen for You from The Old Farmer's Store