Health benefits of Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Witch Hazel properties and health benefits
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a shrub, about six to eight meters tall and original from North America. The Witch Hazel family is composed of more than 20 genera and about 100 species around the world . The flowers are bright yellow and the fruits encapsulated. This shrub blooms in fall and winter.
The name Witch hazel derives from the similitude of witch hazel leaves with those of the hazel nut  in combination with the strange blooming time, near Halloween . Many people ask themselves what is Witch hazel and what is Witch hazel used for, if you´re one of them have a look below and discover Witch hazel properties and health benefits and the related scientific evidence on which those have been founded. Image: Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) by Wendy Cutler under Creative Common license (CC BY 2.0).
Common name: Witch hazel, Winterbloom (America), Spotted alder .
INFO: Witch hazel contains Safrole as part of the list of active constituents and Safrole is a known carcinogen, however it seems Witch hazel doesn't contain enough quantities of safrole to suppose a health hazard.
Extracts from Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), as well as green tea (Camellia sinensis), the fern Polypodium leucotomos and others contain antioxidant polyphenolic compounds that may protect the skin from sunburn and photo-aging when administered topically or systemically.
Among the active constituents found in Witch hazel we can mention tannins, bitters, gallic acid, catechins, gallotannins, hamamelitannins, flavonoids (quercentin, kaempferol), phenolic acids, saponins and safrole, some of them high contributors to Hamamelis virginiana benefits.
The gallotannins are mainly found in Witch hazel leaves. The Hamamelis virginiana leaves extracts showed a high concentration of not only gallotannins, but also procyanidins and catechins, these last two active constituents in a less considerable proportion.
Octagalloyl hexose represents the major tannin from the active constituents found in Hamamelis virginiana.
Some of the properties and characteristics that make Witch Hazel a very interesting herb for us are, for example its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and antioxidant properties, these last ones due to the high amount of tannins that this herb has. Health Benefits.
In spite Witch hazel contains Safrole as part of the list of active constituents and Safrole is a known carcinogen, it seems Witch hazel doesn't contain enough quantities of safrole to suppose a health hazard [4,10]. Scientific research however shows links between safrole and hepatic adenomas in rats .
Other essential oils have also been subject of study in order to determine the link between them and certain types of cancer. Due to its sweet and spicy flavor safrole was used till 1958 as a flavoring agent but then forbidden by the FDA and many other countries due to the liver damage and tumors that it could cause its administration .
Witch Hazel has been known since many years to be an effective herbal remedy against diarrhoea, hemorrhoids and also very good for the treatment of skin disorders, this mainly due to its astringent properties, yes, Witch Hazel is an astringent herb and as such is good because it helps to tone the skin and close its pores, helping you have a fresh look.
But one of this ailments, known to be caused by a blood vessel constriction disorder, hemorrhoids, has been treated since long time ago using the properties and benefits of Witch hazel. It seems that topical application of Witch hazel near the area affected can relieve pain and lower dilation of blood vessels. This is probably because tannins in Witch hazel can draw out inflammatory proteins causing the hemorrhoids, helping this way to reduce swelling and inflammation on the affected area.
Astringent herbs as Witch hazel can reduce the body fluid discharge by constricting the skin and its pores, reducing that way the level of dehydration suffered by the body, for example during diarrhea processes. These astringent properties of Witch hazel are exerted by the tannins found in this herb.
The astringent properties from Witch Hazel come from one of its biomolecules, the tannins, which you may have heard to some wine experts while talking about the taste and properties of wine. Well, tannins are biomolecules as we said, which main characteristic are its astringent property and its particular taste. These astringent properties of tannins contained in Witch hazel bark and leaves were already used by American Indians many years ago to prepare teas against fever and coughs .
Tannins give this bitter and characteristic taste to the wine, and are responsible for the precipitation of those particles we find in old wines when we finish to drink them or at the bottom of the bottle. The older the wine is the most tannins you’ll find on them and the more probabilities those ones are precipitate as rests. Now that we know what the tannins are we can tell you why Witch Hazel has such an astringent power, Witch Hazel leave extracts are very rich in tannins.
Many of you may have asked yourself "is Witch hazel antibacterial?" Well, the answer is simple, Witch hazel tannins are very useful to protect skin against bacterial attacks, this is one of the reasons Witch Hazel is believed to be an effective anti-bacterial agent. This is probably the effect of tannins that closing skin pores prevent bacterial infections and help our skin to be better protected against those external agents.
The astringent effect of tannins also help to stop bleeding minor wounds and bruises, however this will only help in minor injuries. Because the high amount of tannins this herb contains, it´s only recommended using it externally.
Many well-known commercial after-shaves and facial and skin care products make very good use of the astringent properties of Witch hazel and benefit from it. Laboratories opted to make use of the natural properties of Witch hazel instead of investing on the discovery of new molecules for which they may have never obtained such a good result as nature brought to them for free.
Another document use of Witch hazel refers to its power to treat varicose veins, mainly due again to the astringent power of tannins contained in Witch hazel, able to constrict blood vessels and minimize the effect of varicose veins.
The use of Witch hazel for the treatment of acne in young patients became very popular in recent years. Once again, Witch hazel can help skin pores to close and prevent dirt and bacteria from infecting skin.
As part of after-sun lotions, data provided by studies on the subject suggests that Witch hazel exerts an anti-inflammatory action in lotions with 10% hamamelis content . The use of Witch hazel as part of after-sun creams and lotions is not new, several studies on the subject report its use as part of liquid and dry extracts where together with other herbs as Matricaria recutita, Aesculus hippocastanum, Rhamnus purshiana and Cinnamomum zeylanicum the extracts showed an intensification in solar protection factors, being able to contribute their emollient and moistening properties of the after-sun creams and lotions .
Even some herbal remedies refer to Witch hazel properties for the treatment of animal itchiness and hot spots on pets . The preparation seems to be very effective when Witch hazel is combined with Aloe vera.
The use of astringents as Witch hazel ointment for the treatment of skin disorders and skin injuries in children aged 27 days to 11 years was also documented in another clinical trial performed by the University Hospital of Luebeck. In this clinical trial Witch hazel ointment efficacy was compared and matched with that of dexpanthenol ointment. The results were similar in both cases but we have to highlight that the tolerability of hamamelis virginiana was considered as excellent .
In a recent study on Witch hazel Hamamelitannin properties against Colon cancer cells, it was discovered that Hamamelitannins from With Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) naturally occurring on the bark of this herb, exerted important anti-cancer properties, being able to induce necrosis and apoptosis, as well as S-phase arrest in the HT29 colon cancer cells. Pentagalloylglucose and proanthocyanidins found in the bark of Witch hazel were also analyzed on the same study but less efficiently than the Hamamelitannins [15,16]. In the same study hamamelitannin had no harmful effects on NCM460 normal colonocyte.
In another study it was discovered that hamamelitannins were on a higher concentration in Witch hazel bark, having that extract up to 31 times more hamamelitannin than the leaf extract and 87 times more than the stem extract .
Due to the high content of tannins in Witch hazel only external topical use is recommended. *Have a look at our disclaimer below.
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 Hamamelis in children with skin disorders and skin injuries: results of an observational study.
Wolff HH, Kieser M.
Dermatology Department, University Hospital Luebeck, Ratzeburger Allee 160, Luebeck, Germany.
 Hamamelitannin from Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) Displays Specific Cytotoxic Activity against Colon Cancer Cells.
Sánchez-Tena S, Fernández-Cachón ML, Carreras A, Mateos-Martín ML, Costoya N, Moyer MP, Nuñez MJ, Torres JL, Cascante M.
Faculty of Biology, Universitat de Barcelona , IBUB, Unit Associated with CSIC, 08028 Barcelona, Spain.
 Hamamelitannin from Hamamelis virginiana inhibits the tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF)-induced endothelial cell death in vitro.
School of Chemical and Life Sciences, The University of Greenwich, Wellington Street, London, UK.
 Tannins from Hamamelis virginiana: identification of proanthocyanidins and hamamelitannin quantification in leaf, bark, and stem extracts.
Vennat B, Pourrat H, Pouget MP, Gross D, Pourrat A.
Laboratoire de Pharmacie Galénique et de Pharmacotechnie, Faculté de Pharmacie, Clermont-Ferrand Cedex, France.
 Anti-inflammatory effect of hamamelis lotion in a UVB erythema test.
Hughes-Formella BJ, Bohnsack K, Rippke F, Benner G, Rudolph M, Tausch I, Gassmueller J.
BioSkin, Institute for Dermatological Research and Development, Hamburg, Germany.
 Preliminary studies towards utilization of various plant extracts as antisolar agents.
Ramos MF, Santos EP, Bizarri CH, Mattos HA, Padilha MR, Duarte HM.
Faculdade de Farmácia, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Centro de Ciências da Saúde Bloco K 2 andar sala 50, CEP: 21910-240, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.
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