Witch-hazel is a deciduous spring-flowering tree with fragrant fringe-like blossoms that appear on branches before the leaves emerge. Pictured: Hamamelis virginiana, a native to the eastern and central United States. This is another favorite under-story tree for the woodland garden, blooming mid-March here in Georgia, Zone 7B.
The botanical name Hamamelis comes from two Greek words: one meaning “apple” (signifying a fruit), and the other meaning “at the same time.” Flowers on the witch hazel are produced “at the same time” the previous year’s fruit is maturing and scattering seeds from its branches. As to the common name (witch hazel), the word “witch” is a derivative of an Old English word “wych,” denoting the term “to bend” because the branches of the witch hazel are pliable. The plant is not related to the hazel nut tree at all, but the leaves do have a similar appearance, thus the common name “witch hazel.”
Colonists and Native Americans used witch hazel for a number of maladies, particularly in the treatment of wounds, sore muscles, and abrasions. Today, plant extract from witch hazel leaves and bark is widely used in skin care products and is especially useful as an astringent. Cosmetically, it is used in the treatment acne, and medicinally for minor rashes, blisters and insect bites. Witch hazel is one of the few native medicinal plants approved by the FDA as a non-prescription ingredient in over-the-counter products.
Botanical Illustration for the Witch Hazel: Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen.
More information about Witch Hazel as a medicinal element, here.