The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Witch Hazel

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984

Issue: November, 1984

wild flowerIllustration by Susan M. Thigpen.Witch Hazel has been known and used as an astringent for a long, long time.. The Indians used it in the form of a poultice on bruises and external irritations.

The thing that sets witch hazel apart from most plants or shrubs is that in the fall, when its leaves are dying and falling, witch hazel then starts its blooming season. From October until as late as January in some areas, you can see the yellow blooms on its bare branches, making it the last bloom of the season.

Witch Hazel is a shrub with several crooked branches stemming from the same root. It grows from 5 to 12 feet tall. You can spot witch hazel in damp woods in rich soils. The seeds are in woody nut-like pods which, when ripe, burst and shoots seeds several feet. The leaves are broad and very uneven at the base.

Witch hazel shoots were sometimes used as divining rods to discover water and metals underground, according to an old turn of the century source. The bark and leaves were boiled in water to extract the astringent properties used by pioneer women as a facial rinse to enhance their complexion.