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Known interactions

No interactions found.

What we now about Winter Bloom

Scientific Name: Witch Hazel

Other Names: Hamamelis, Hamamelis Water, Hamamelis virginiana, Hazel Nut, Snapping Hazel, Snapping Tobacco Wood, Spotted Alder, Striped Alder, Tobacco Wood, Winter Bloom

Who is this for?

Note: The witch hazel plant contains uncertain amounts of tannins, which have been known to cause stomach upset when taken by mouth. In large doses, tannins have produced kidney and liver damage. Even though witch hazel water may have little or no tannin content, taking any form of witch hazel by mouth is not recommended.

Frequently labeled as “witch hazel water”, witch hazel is most commonly used topically to relieve itchy or irritated skin. Chemicals in witch hazel cause skin proteins to tighten and make a protective layer over the damaged tissue. Due to this “astringent” effect, witch hazel is often used to stop minor bleeding. Therefore, it may be included in after-shave lotions that lessen razor burn and control bleeding from nicks. It may also relieve other minor skin surface irritations such as cold sores, insect bites, scrapes, and sunburn.

Traditionally, witch hazel water has been applied to varicose veins as a way to constrict them and help them regain firmness. It is also moderately effective as a compress, an enema, or suppositories to shrink and soothe hemorrhoids. The German E Commission, the German governmental agency that evaluates the safety and effectiveness of herbal products, has approved witch hazel for treating hemorrhoids, minor skin injuries, and varicose veins. The United States does not have a comparable agency to evaluate herbal products. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved witch hazel for non-prescription use in astringent skin protective products.

Witch hazel may have other, less well-documented uses. As a rub, it may be useful in treating bruises and sprains. Occasionally, it is included in commercially-prepared eye drops. However, witch hazel water should never be put into the eyes because it generally contains alcohol, which could sting or irritate the eyes. Due to the likelihood that bacteria or other infective agents may contaminate home-brewed witch hazel tea, it should also not be used in the eyes. As a mouthwash or gargle, witch hazel water may soothe the gums, mouth, throat, and tongue. It may help relieve teething pain when rubbed on a baby's gums. Because swallowing large amounts of witch hazel can be harmful, however, care should be taken to spit it out and rinse the mouth with plain water after using witch hazel as a gargle or mouthwash. Laboratory studies suggest that witch hazel may have some mild anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, but these possible effects have not been studied extensively.

When should I be careful taking it?

Although distilling witch hazel may remove most of the potentially-harmful tannins from it, witch hazel water is not intended for oral use. While no cases of human kidney or liver damage from witch hazel have been reported, taking witch hazel by mouth should be avoided.

Precautions

Topical witch hazel contains alcohol, which can sting and burn raw skin. It should not be used for serious burns or other deep or extensive skin surface injuries.

What side effects should I watch for?

Although no reports of major side effects from witch hazel have been documented, other oral preparations that are high in tannin content have been associated with kidney or liver damage. Individuals with kidney or liver conditions should avoid using oral and topical witch hazel products.

In some isolated reports, drinking a large amount of tea made from witch hazel bark, leaves, or twigs has resulted in nausea and vomiting. It can also cause constipation. Oral use of witch hazel is not recommended.

A few case reports describe a rare contact allergy from handling witch hazel plants, but no studies have been published to support these reports.

What interactions should I watch for?

No interactions between topical witch hazel and prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, other herbal products, or foods have been reported. However, because few reliable studies of witch hazel have been conducted in humans, its possible interactions are not understood completely.

Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals.

Should I take it?

Witch hazel grows as a small bushy tree, believed to have originated in eastern North America. Currently, most of the supply for commercial use is grown in New England, although witch hazel products are used extensively in Europe. In some places, it is used as an ornamental shrub because it has attractive leaves and unusual yellow or red flowers, which bloom in late summer or fall. Seedpods that are produced from those blossoms do not ripen until the following fall, so the plant has blooms and ripe seeds at the same time. Each pod contains two seeds that may be eaten as food by humans and woodland animals. Witch hazel may be called by its alternate name, “snapping hazel”, because the thick seedpods break open suddenly with a sharp popping sound, to shoot its large seeds as much as 10 or 20 feet away from the tree. Witch hazel seeds are not the nuts commonly known as hazelnuts or filberts.

In medicine the leaves, twigs, and bark of witch hazel are used. For topical use, these upper or “aerial” parts of witch hazel are collected in the fall, shredded, and soaked in warn water. After straining out the solid particles, the resulting liquid is most often steam-distilled and mixed with alcohol to make witch hazel “water”. It may also be sold as an extract (a concentrated liquid preparation) or as an ingredient in creams, lotions, or ointments. Native Americans made medicinal tea from witch hazel, but taking witch hazel orally is now discouraged strongly due to its high and erratic content of chemicals called tannins that can cause stomach upset. In excessively high doses, tannin-containing products rarely may result in liver or kidney damage. Witch hazel is often included in cosmetics such as after-shave lotions, deodorants, skin firmers, and soaps; as well as in non-prescription health products such as hemorrhoid remedies.

Dosage and Administration

The topical forms of witch hazel that are available in the United States include creams, lotions, and towelettes; but more common is witch hazel “water”. This clear, thin liquid is usually made by steam-distilling witch hazel twigs or bark, and then mixing the result with alcohol. Frequently, witch hazel is combined with other herbal products, such as horse chestnut, which also have astringent effects. Witch hazel water is generally dabbed or sprayed directly on irritated skin as often as needed. For hemorrhoids, it can be used after each bowel movement — up to six times a day.

Summary

Because its tannin content may cause kidney or liver damage, using witch hazel orally is not recommended. Topical witch hazel is an effective astringent and hemostatic, which means it can soothe irritated skin and help to stop minor bleeding.

Risks

Taking witch hazel by mouth may cause stomach problems like nausea. Oral use of witch hazel is not recommended. When it is applied to raw skin, witch hazel may cause stinging and burning. Very rarely, allergic reactions have been associated with handling witch hazel bark, flowers, leaves, or wood.

Side Effects

Although some individuals may have allergic reactions to the plants, no major side effects are usually experienced with using witch hazel water on the skin. Its alcohol content may further irritate skin that is already damaged, however.

Interactions

No specific interactions have been identified between witch hazel and prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, other supplements, or foods.

References

American Botanical Council. Witch hazel leaf and bark. 2000. Available at: http://www.herbalgram.org/youngliving/expandedcommissione/he103.asp. Accessed September 27, 2004.

Anon: Witch Hazel. In: DerMarderosian A, Beutler JA, eds. Facts and Comparisons: The Review of Natural Products. St. Louis, MO, Facts and Comparisons. July, 1997.

Blumenthal M, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Rister RS, eds. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council; 1998.

Choi HR, Choi JS, Han YN, Bae SJ, Chung HY. Peroxynitrite scavenging activity of herb extracts. Phytotherapy Research. 2002;16(4):364-367.

Dauer A, Hensel A, Lhoste E, Knasmuller S, Mersch-Sundermann V. Genotoxic and antigenotoxic effects of catechin and tannins from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana L. in metabolically competent, human hepatoma cells (Hep G2) using single cell gel electrophoresis. Phytochemistry. 2003;63(2):199-207.

Dauer A, Rimpler H, Hensel A. Polymeric proanthocyanidins from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana. Planta Medica. 2003;69(1):89-91.

Erdelmeier CA, Cinatl J Jr, Rabenau H, Doerr HW, Biber A, Koch E. Antiviral and antiphlogistic activities of Hamamelis virginiana bark. Planta Medica. 1996;62(3):241-245.

68 Fed. Reg. 35,346 (June 13, 2003)

59 Fed. Reg. 13,589 (June 3, 1994)

Foster S. Witch hazel. Available at: http://www.stevenfoster.com/education/monograph/witchhazel.html. Accessed September 27, 2004.

Granlund H. Contact allergy to witch hazel. Contact Dermatitis. 1994;31(3):195.

Herbs2000. Hamamelis virginiana. No date given. Available at: http://www.herbs2000.com/herbs/herbs_witch_hazel.htm. Accessed August 6, 2004.

Hughes-Formella BJ, Bohnsack K, Rippke F, et al. Anti-inflammatory effect of hamamelis lotion in a UVB erythema test. Dermatology. 1998;196(3):316-322.

Iauk L, Lo Bue AM, Milazzo I, Rapisarda A, Blandino G. Antibacterial activity of medicinal plant extracts against periodontopathic bacteria. Phytotherapy Research. 2003:17(6):599-604.

Jellin JM, Gregory P, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al, eds. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 3rd Edition. Stockton CA: Therapeutic Research Facility, 2000.

Korting HC, Schafer-Korting M, Hart H, Laux P, Schmid M. Anti-inflammatory activity of hamamelis distillate applied topically to the skin. Influence of vehicle and dose. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 1993;44(4):315-318.

Korting HC, Schafer-Korting M, Klovekorn W, Klovekorn G, Martin C, Laux P. Comparative efficacy of hamamelis distillate and hydrocortisone cream in atopic eczema. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 1995;48(6):461-465.

MacKay D. Hemorrhoids and varicose veins: a review of treatment options. Alternative Medicine Review. 2001;6(2):126-140.


(Note: The above information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. It is not meant to indicate that the use of the product is safe, appropriate, or effective for you.)

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