It occurred to me last night that witch hazel is one of those things that is really useful to have in the medicine cabinet, and I wondered to myself if it’s something that one could make at home.
So I went digging.
Online. Not outside.
And I was very excited to find out that it IS something that we can make ourselves, provided we have a witch hazel shrub.
“Witch hazel is an astringent produced from the leaves and bark of the North American Witch-hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana)…”
“Native Americans produced witch hazel extract by boiling the stems of the shrub and condensing the steam to produce a distillate. They used the distillate to treat sore muscles, cuts, insect bites, and other inflammations and tumors. Early Puritan settlers in New England adopted this remedy from the natives, and its use became widely established in the United States.“
I love that!! So, I went looking for exactly how to make my own extract. Here are two recipes I came across for witch hazel astringent:
- Prune one pound of fresh twigs from shrubs as soon as they have flowered. This practice produces the strongest tonic.
- Strip off the leaves and flowers (save these for sachets) and chop the twigs into a coarse mulch using either a mechanical mulcher or pruning clippers.
- Place the chopped twigs into a two-gallon stainless steel pot.
- Cover the twigs with distilled water (available at the supermarket) and bring the contents to a boil.
- Reduce heat to simmer, then cover and cook for at least eight hours; add water as needed to cover the mulch.
- Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
- Pour the witch hazel tonic through a funnel containing a cheesecloth filter and into clean plastic squeeze bottles or other suitable, tightly-capped containers.
- Use the tonic within a week unless it is kept refrigerated. You can preserve your tonic for long-term room temperature storage by adding nine ounces of vodka or grain alcohol to 23 ounces of tonic. Yield: one gallon.
Warning: Do NOT use internally! Keep out of the reach of children.
Thanks, Handmaiden’s Kitchen!
As a topical astringent, witch hazel can be applied directly to burns, bruises, insect bites, and aching muscles. It can also be used to clean oily skin, remove make-up, or mixed with water for a relaxing footbath. This must be stored in the refrigerator, where it will keep for three weeks Usually a tea will only last a day or two, but this one will remain stable longer, possible because of the astringency.
1 tablespoon witch hazel bark
1 cup distilled water
1 quart saucepan
Glass storage jar
Soak witch hazel bark in water for ½ hour, and then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, covered, for 10-minutes. Remove from heat, let steep for another 10-minutes. Strain when cool and bottle. Apply with a cotton ball.
I’m dying to scour our woods in hopes of finding this brilliant plant. Supposedly it grows wild throughout northeast and southeast North America, and particularly well in the Appalachian Mountains.
A great way to spot a witch hazel plant in your area is to search shaded forests in late October or early November for the only plant that is blossoming instead of dropping its leaves for the winter. Witch hazel can be found as either a large shrub, or a tree, and displays beautiful yellow flowers throughout the cold winter months.
But even if I can’t find any wild, I’m excited to now know that I can plant my own Witch Hazel bushes here around the home! I have the perfect spot too, a shady place on the north side of the house.
If you’re interested in putting some of these plants in as well, you can order them online for around $14 each. They’re hardy in zones 5-8, and do well in part sun, to full shade.
Witch Hazel is used for so many things: bug bites, sunburns, cuts, after shave, facial astringent, a soothing compress for perinatal tears.
It makes a beautiful, multi-purpose ornamental shrub, and has many medicinal and cosmetic uses. I’m so glad I looked this up! Definitely another plant to put on my “to get” list.