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Witch Hazel

Botanical name: Hamamelis virginiana


© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

Although native to North America, witch hazel now also grows in Europe. The leaves and bark of the tree are used in herbal medicine.

Witch hazel has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns

Cold sores (topical)

Eczema (topical)

Hemorrhoids (topical)


Canker sores

Crohn’s disease


Skin ulcers (topical)

Varicose veins

Wound healing (topical)

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

Native Americans used poultices of witch hazel leaves and bark to treat hemorrhoids, wounds, painful tumors, insect bites, and skin ulcers.1

Active constituents

Tannins and volatile oils are the main active constituents in witch hazel. These constituents contribute to the strong astringent effect of witch hazel. Pharmacological studies have suggested that witch hazel strengthens veins and is anti-inflammatory.2 3 Topical creams are currently used in Europe to treat inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema. One double-blind trial found that a topical witch hazel ointment (applied four times per day) was as effective as the topical anti-inflammatory drug bufexamac for people with eczema.4 However, another trial found that witch hazel was no better than a placebo when compared to hydrocortisone for people with eczema.5 Witch hazel is approved in Germany for relief of local mouth inflammations such as canker sores.

How much is usually taken?

A tea of witch hazel can be made by steeping 2–3 grams of the leaves or bark in 150 ml of boiled water for 10 to 15 minutes.6 The tea can be drunk two to three times daily between meals. A tincture, 2–4 ml three times per day, is also occasionally used.

In combination with warm, moist compresses, witch hazel extracts can be applied liberally at least twice each day (in the morning and at bedtime) on hemorrhoids. For other skin problems, ointment or cream can be applied three or four times a day, or as needed.7

Are there any side effects or interactions?

With internal use, witch hazel may cause stomach irritation and cramping.8 In particular, it should not be taken internally in combination with medications, supplements or herbs containing alkaloids, as the tannins in witch hazel may interfere with absorption.

There are no known restrictions to the internal use of witch hazel during pregnancy or breast-feeding.9

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with witch hazel. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.


1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 221.

2. Bernard P, Balansard P, Balansard G, Bovis A. Venotonic pharmacodynamic value of galenic preparations with a base of hamamelis leaves. J Pharm Belg 1972;27:505–12.

3. Korting HC, Schafer-Korting M, Hart H, et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of Hamamelis distillate applied topically to the skin. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 1993;44:315–8.

4. Swoboda M, Meurer J. Treatment of atopic dermatitis with Hamamelis ointment. Br J Phytother 1991/2;2:128–32.

5. Korting HC, Schafer-Korting M, Klovekorn W, et al. Comparative efficacy of hamamelis distillate and hydrocortisone cream in atopic eczema. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 1995;48:461–5.

6. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 2000, 413–8.

7. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 231.

8. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 105.

9. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A (eds). American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 59–60.

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