Main content

    Health Information

    Witch Hazel

    Witch Hazel

    Uses

    Botanical names:
    Hamamelis virginiana

    Parts Used & Where Grown

    Although native to North America, witch hazel now also grows in Europe. The leaves and bark of the tree are used in herbal medicine.

    What Are Star Ratings?

    Our proprietary "Star-Rating" system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.

    For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.

    3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.

    2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.

    1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.

    This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:

    Used for Why
    2 Stars
    Cold Sores
    Apply a cream containing 2% extract six times daily for three to eight days
    Learn More

    The proanthocyanidins in witch hazel have been shown to exert significant antiviral activity against herpes simplex 1 in the test tube.2 In a double-blind trial, people with acute cold sore outbreaks applied a topical cream containing 2% witch hazel bark extract or placebo six times a day for three to eight days.3 By the end of the eighth day, those using the witch-hazel cream had a pronounced and statistically significant reduction in the size and spread of the inflammation when compared to the placebo group.

    2 Stars
    Eczema
    Apply 10 to 20% herbal extract two to three times per day
    Learn More

    A cream prepared with witch hazel and phosphatidylcholine has been reported to be as effective as 1% hydrocortisone in the topical management of eczema, according to one double-blind trial.4

    2 Stars
    Hemorrhoids
    Follow label instructions
    Learn More

    Topically applied astringent herbs have been used traditionally as a treatment for hemorrhoids. A leading astringent herb for topical use is witch hazel ,5 which is typically applied to hemorrhoids three or four times per day in an ointment base.

    1 Star
    Canker Sores
    Refer to label instructions
    Learn More

    Historically, herbs known as astringents have been used to soothe the pain of canker sores. These herbs usually contain tannins that can bind up fluids and possibly relieve inflammation. They are used as a mouth rinse and then are spit out. None of these herbs has been studied in modern times. Examples of astringent herbs include agrimony, cranesbill , tormentil, oak , periwinkle , and witch hazel . Witch hazel is approved by the German Commission E for local inflammations of the mouth, presumably a condition that includes canker sores.

    1 Star
    Crohn's Disease
    Refer to label instructions
    Learn More

    Tannin-containing herbs may be helpful to decrease diarrhea during acute flare-ups and have been used for this purpose in traditional medicine. A preliminary trial using isolated tannins in the course of usual drug therapy for Crohn's disease found them to be more effective for reducing diarrhea than was no additional treatment.6 Tannin-containing herbs of potential benefit include agrimony (Agrimonia spp.), green tea , oak , witch hazel , and cranesbill . Use of such herbs should be discontinued before the diarrhea is completely resolved; otherwise the disease may be aggravated.

    1 Star
    Menorrhagia
    Refer to label instructions
    Learn More

    Cinnamon has been used historically for the treatment of various menstrual disorders, including heavy menstruation.7 This is also the case with shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). 8 Other herbs known as astringents (tannin-containing plants that tend to decrease discharges), such as cranesbill , periwinkle , witch hazel , and oak , were traditionally used for heavy menstruation. Human trials are lacking, so the usefulness of these herbs is unknown. Black horehound was sometimes used traditionally for heavy periods, though this approach has not been investigated by modern research.

    1 Star
    Varicose Veins
    Refer to label instructions
    Learn More

    Although witch hazel is known primarily for treating hemorrhoids , it may also be useful for varicose veins.9 Topical use of witch hazel to treat venous conditions is approved by the German Commission E, authorities on herbal medicine.10 Application of a witch hazel ointment three or more times per day for two or more weeks is necessary before results can be expected.

    1 Star
    Wound Healing
    Refer to label instructions
    Learn More

    Comfrey has anti-inflammatory properties that may decrease bruising when the herb is applied topically.11 Comfrey is also widely used in traditional medicine as a topical application to help heal wounds.12 Witch hazel can also be used topically to decrease inflammation and to stop bleeding.13 Native Americans used poultices of witch hazel leaves and bark to treat wounds, insect bites, and ulcers.14 Horsetail can be used both internally and topically to decrease inflammation and promote wound healing.15

    Traditional Use (May Not Be Supported by Scientific Studies)

    Native Americans used poultices of witch hazel leaves and bark to treat hemorrhoids , wounds , painful tumors, insect bites, and skin ulcers.1

    How It Works

    Botanical names:
    Hamamelis virginiana

    How It Works

    Tannins and volatile oils are the main active constituents in witch hazel. These constituents contribute to the strong astringent effect of witch hazel. Pharmacological studies have suggested that witch hazel strengthens veins and is anti-inflammatory.16 , 17 Topical creams are currently used in Europe to treat inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema . One double-blind trial found that a topical witch hazel ointment (applied four times per day) was as effective as the topical anti-inflammatory drug bufexamac for people with eczema.18 However, another trial found that witch hazel was no better than a placebo when compared to hydrocortisone for people with eczema.19 Witch hazel is approved in Germany for relief of local mouth inflammations such as canker sores .

    How to Use It

    A tea of witch hazel can be made by steeping 2-3 grams of the leaves or bark in 150 ml of boiled water for 10 to 15 minutes.20 The tea can be drunk two to three times daily between meals. A tincture, 2-4 ml three times per day, is also occasionally used.

    In combination with warm, moist compresses, witch hazel extracts can be applied liberally at least twice each day (in the morning and at bedtime) on hemorrhoids . For other skin problems, ointment or cream can be applied three or four times a day, or as needed.21

    Interactions

    Botanical names:
    Hamamelis virginiana

    Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds

    Witch hazel should not be taken internally in combination with medications, supplements or herbs containing alkaloids, as the tannins in witch hazel may interfere with absorption.

    Interactions with Medicines

    As of the last update, we found no reported interactions between this supplement and medicines. It is possible that unknown interactions exist. If you take medication, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a new supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.
    The Drug-Nutrient Interactions table may not include every possible interaction. Taking medicines with meals, on an empty stomach, or with alcohol may influence their effects. For details, refer to the manufacturers' package information as these are not covered in this table. If you take medications, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.

    Side Effects

    Botanical names:
    Hamamelis virginiana

    Side Effects

    With internal use, witch hazel may cause stomach irritation and cramping.22

    There are no known restrictions to the internal use of witch hazel during pregnancy or breast-feeding.23

    References

    1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 221.

    2. Erdelmeier CA, Cinatl J Jr, Rabenau H, et al. Antiviral and antiphlogistic activities of Hamamelis virginiana bark. Planta Med 1996;62:241-5.

    3. Baumgärtner M, Köhler S, Moll I, et al. Localized treatment of herpes labialis using hamamelis special extract: a placebo-controlled double-blind study. Z Allerg Med 1998;74:158-61.

    4. Laux P, Oschmann R. Witch hazel -Hamamelis virgincia L. Zeitschrift Phytother 1993;14:155-66.

    5. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994, 268-70.

    6. Plein K, Burkard G, Hotz J. Treatment of chronic diarrhea in Crohn disease. A pilot study of the clinical effect of tannin albuminate and ethacridine lactate. Fortschr Med 1993;111:114-8 [in German].

    7. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Foods,Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 168-70.

    8. Ellingwood F. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1919, 1998, 354.

    9. European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy. Hamamelidis folium (Hamamelis leaf). ESCOP Monographs on the Medicinal Uses of Plant Drugs. Exeter, UK: ESCOP, 1997.

    10. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 231.

    11. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council, 1998, 115-6.

    12. Weiss R. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum and Beaconsfield, UK: Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd, 1988, 342.

    13. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council, 1998, 231.

    14. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 221.

    15. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council, 1998, 150-1.

    16. Bernard P, Balansard P, Balansard G, Bovis A. Venotonic pharmacodynamic value of galenic preparations with a base of hamamelis leaves. J Pharm Belg 1972;27:505-12.

    17. Korting HC, Schafer-Korting M, Hart H, et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of Hamamelis distillate applied topically to the skin. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 1993;44:315-8.

    18. Swoboda M, Meurer J. Treatment of atopic dermatitis with Hamamelis ointment. Br J Phytother 1991/2;2:128-32.

    19. Korting HC, Schafer-Korting M, Klovekorn W, et al. Comparative efficacy of hamamelis distillate and hydrocortisone cream in atopic eczema. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 1995;48:461-5.

    20. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 2000, 413-8.

    21. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 231.

    22. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 105.

    23. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A (eds). American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 59-60.

    This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

    Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.