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Witch hazel: medicinal plant for cases of varicose veins, dermatitis, hemorrhoids and itching

 

The plant witch hazel virginiana L., also known as witch hazel and witch’s walnut, or simply as Virginia witch hazel, is an herb recognized for its medicinal properties.

And in this article we are going to tell you precisely what are the qualities and benefits of this plant, how it is used and the possible side effects and contraindications.

What is witch hazel?

Native to the Atlantic coast of the north of the American continent, very common in forests from Quebec and Nova Scotia to Virginia, Florida and Texas, it is also cultivated on a small scale in Europe.

It is a small shrub that belongs to the botanical family Hamamelidaceae similar to hazelnut that blooms in autumn or winter. Its name comes from a compound word of Greek origin that, on the one hand means fruit and another whose meaning would be “at the same time”, referring to the fact that the fruit and the flower are present at the same time.

The term witch in the vulgar name, in English “witch hazel”, is believed to come from wyche which would mean flexible branch and the resemblance to hazel (hazel).

> Read How to dry and store medicinal plants

American Indians have long used its leaves and bark to prepare astringent ointments reputed to stop bleeding , soothe insect bites and burns . It was also used for eye washing and for its sedative action .

Active ingredients of witch hazel

The activity of Hamamelis Virginiana L. is mainly attributed to the presence of polyphenolic compounds (tannins and flavonoids).

The leaf contains 3-10% tannins, phenolic acids (caffeic and gallic), flavonoids galactosides and glucuronides, kaempherol, quercetin, quercitrin and isoquercitrin.

The bark contains 8-12% tannins, qualitatively similar to those of the leaves but with a higher content of hamametinin, and a small amount of flavonoids.

The composition varies according to the organ from which they are extracted, the way they are obtained and the environmental conditions.

Properties and pharmacological action of witch hazel

Due to its content of tannic substances, Hamamelis has the capacity to cause the precipitation of proteins, waterproofing and protecting the cell membrane and reducing capillary permeability. Therefore, it is very beneficial to take care of blood vessels and prevent varicose veins and phlebitis .

Hence, most pharmacological trials have focused on topical anti-inflammatory activity in the treatment of various skin conditions.

The astringent, antiphlogistic and hemostatic properties, especially in superficial skin lesions, eczema, burns, itching or pruritus, varicose alterations and hemorrhoids .

Clinical studies have been conducted with an ointment based on witch hazel distillate that have been shown to be as effective as steroid preparations.

Other studies have shown effects on the cardiovascular system , in conditions that include excessive venous dilation and return circulatory insufficiency, reducing inflammation, pain and heaviness of inflamed veins, with a direct effect on the venous wall. Witch hazel is an ally in case of tired feet and legs .

In addition, they have been shown to be useful in treating heavy or irregular menstruation , as well as in cases of menopause .

The most recent studies with preparations containing Hamamelis Virginiana L. have also shown antimicrobial, antibacterial and calming action .

How is witch hazel used?

In some countries, phytomedicines prepared with Hamamelis Virginiana L. are used orally and topically for the treatment of venous insufficiency, phlebitis, heaviness in the legs and hemorrhoidal symptoms. For eye irritation and gum irritation, a topical preparation with rinses is made.

For the preparations, the crushed drug (infusion or decoction) and the extract are used for the preparation of liquid, semi-solid and solid forms.

The dosage, according to ESCOP ( European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy ), is 2-3 g of drug infused 2-4 times a day, for internal use .

For external use , liquid preparations or semisolid extracts, the proportion of 5-10% of the drug is used.

For 20-30% poultices, while for compresses and rinses, a decoction of 5-10 g of drug is used every 250 ml of water. As for the ointment, 10% liquid extract is used, and for suppositories 200 mg of dry extract are included in the preparation.

The German Commission E, for its part, indicates to dilute the distillate 1: 3 parts of water for topical use, and 5-10 g of drug per cup of water (250 ml) in decoction for compresses and irrigations.

Precautions and contraindications of witch hazel

In some cases, although it is not frequent, it can cause topical irritation.

In oral use, although it is not considered toxic, it can cause gastric irritation in sensitive people.

Due to the presence of tannins, discontinuous internal use is recommended. Oral intake of preparations for more than a month is not recommended.

 

Sources:

  • Hamamelis virginiana Witch-hazel”, Barbara Lukacs Grob, Kasey Hartz Natural Area Reference Sheet, Muskegon community College. 2007.
  • Hamamelis virginiana Phytochemistry, pharmacology and therapeutics”, Ángel María Villar del Fresno. Faculty of Pharmacy, Complutense University of Madrid. 2018.
  • “Assessment report n Hamamelis Virginiana (…)”, Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC). European Medicines Agency, Evaluation of Medicines for Human Use. 2009.
  • “Survival of traditional American plant remedies in current Spanish therapy”, María Magdalena del Campo y Matilla. Faculty of Pharmacy, Complutense University of Madrid. 2014

 

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