Hamamelis virginiana L. (Witch Hazel) is a member of
the Hamamelidaceae (Witch Hazel family). H. virginiana
is native to the New World and is distributed throughout the
eastern United States. The species is woody and grows as a tall
shrub or small tree, normally reaching between 5-8 meters tall
(Grieve, 2017). H. virginiana has irregular oblong
leaves with rounded teeth on both sides. H. virginiana
is characterized by yellow flowers with four long, thin petals.
It normally flowers in late autumn and produces explosive
capsules that release black, shiny seeds (Grieve, 2017).
H. virginiana was a commonly used herb by Native
Americans. H. virginiana was used as a poultice to treat
inflammation and cancerous tissues (Ryan, 1993). European
settlers began to use it in similar manners, copying the Native
Americans. Modern medicine commonly uses Hamamelis
virginiana as a topical cure for hemorrhoids, varicose
veins, sunburn, swelling, bug bites and skin lesions (Weil
The bark and leaves of Hamamelis virginiana contains
compounds that have medical benefits. The chemically active
compounds in H. virginiana are tannins, namely
Hamamelitannin, and Gallic Acid (Grieve, 2017). Hamamelitannin
is a specific tannin found in the leaves of H. virginiana
National Center for Biotechnology Information). Gallic acid is a
benzoic acid found in gallnuts, sumac, witch hazel, tea leaves
and oak along with other plants (National Center for
Hamamelis virginiana is largely used to treat
dermatological issues. Extracts of H. virginiana have
been shown to be effective in reducing inflammation and diaper
dermatitis (Colantonio & Rivers, 2016). Clinical studies of
shampoo with H. virginiana have been shown to reduce
scalp irritation and were highly tolerable (Trueb, 2014). There
is also some evidence that Hamamelis virginiana extract
may be effective in treating sunburns (Reuter et al, 2010) and
photoaging (Pavicic et al, 2009). Sponges infused with H.
virginiana have been used to inhibit enzymes that impair
wound healing, leading to faster heal times (Antonio et al,
2011). An in vitro test showed H. virginiana
extracts reduce the oxidation of oxygenated hemoglobin of a fish
subject, horse mackerel, which may lead to less lipid oxidation
in muscles and to maintain hemoglobin in reduced oxygen states
(Neira et al, 2011).
The tannins of Hamamelis virginiana have also been
shown to be anti-bacterial, antiprotozoal and antiviral. H.
virginiana is showing promise as an antibacterial due to
its ability to terminate cell-to-cell communication (Lauk et al,
2003). In one study, Hamamelis virginiana was shown to
stop the growth of parasitic protozoa in small, nontoxic
concentrations (Jain, 2016). The tannins are also show to be
effective in stopping human papillomavirus (Theisen et al,
2014). There is also growing evidence that hamamelitannin may be
effective in stopping the spread and growth of colon cancer
(Theisen et al, 2014).
Overall, Hamamelis virginiana is a very safe and easily
tolerable compound. However, when tested as a cosmetic, H.
virginiana was shown to be a potential allergen (Paulsen,
2008). H. virginiana is safe for treating children
aged 27 days to 11 years, having similar results to the now used
dexanthenol but being more tolerable (Wolff & Kieser, 2007).
H. virginiana has been shown to occasionally have adverse
drug reactions when used as a supplement or herbal remedy at
home though these are generally minor and only required hospital
care in three of 918 cases (Yang et al, 2002).
Hamamelis virginiana has been used for centuries
effectively in combating skin disorders and damages as well as
potentially protecting against colon cancer. There appears to be
much room for further study into H. virginiana as
potential antibacterial medicines as well as being used as a
wound healer. H. virginiana is highly tolerable and has
been shown to be safe with adults and children alike. The
potential uses of H. virginiana may grow with further
Andriote, J. 2012. The mysterious past and present of witch
Antonio, F. & R. Guillem & T. Sonia & M. Clara & G Piergiorgio & C. Valeria & C. Gianluca & T. Tzanov. 2011. Cross-linked collagen sponges loaded with plant polyphenols with inhibitory activity towards chronic wound enzymes. Biotechnol J. 6(10):1208-18.
Colantonio, S. & JK. Rivers. 2016. Botanicals with dermatologic properties derived from First Nations healing. J Cutan Med Surg. 1:1203475416683390.
Ehrlich, S. D. 2016. Hemorrhoids http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/hemorrhoids.
Grieve, M. 2017. A Modern Herbal. http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/w/withaz27.html.
Jain, S. & M, Jacob. L, Walker. & B, Tekwani. 2016. Screening North American plant extracts in vitro against Trypanosoma brucei for discovery of new antitrypanosomal drug leads. BMC Complement Altern Med. 18;16:131.
Lauk, L. & I, Milazzo. & A, Rapisarda. & G, Blandino. 2003. Antibacterial activity of medicinal plant extracts against periodontopathic bacteria. Phytother Res. (6):599-604.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=370, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/370.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=16211077, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/16211077.
Neira, J.I. & M, Pazos. & R, Maestre. & J.L. Torres. & I. Medina. 2011. Galloylated polyphenols as inhibitors of hemoglobin-catalyzed lipid oxidation in fish muscle. J Agric Food Chem. 25;59 (10):5684-91.
Paulsen, E. & L.P. Christensen. & K.E. Andersen. 2008. Cosmetics and herbal remedies with Compositae plant extracts - are they tolerated by Compositae-allergic patients? Contact Dermatitis. 58(1):15-23.
Pavicic, T.& S. Steckmeier. M. Kerscher. & H.C. Korting. 2009. [Evidence-based cosmetics: concepts and applications in photoaging of the skin and xerosis]. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 121 (13-14):431-9.
Reuter,J. & U. Wolfle. & H.C. Korting. C. Schempp.
2010. Which plant for which skin disease? Part 2: Dermatophytes,
chronic venous insufficiency, photoprotection, actinic
keratoses, vitiligo, hair loss, cosmetic indications. J
Dtsch Dermatol Ges. (11):866-73.
Ryan, B. 1993. Witch Hazel: An Indian Remedy That Became Big Business. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/10/nyregion/witch-hazel-an-indian-remedy-that-became-big-business.html.
Theisen, L.L. & C.A. Erdelmeier. & G.A. Spoden. & F. Boukhallouk. & A. Sausy. L. Florin. C.P. Muller. 2014. Tannins from Hamamelis virginiana bark extract: characterization and improvement of the antiviral efficacy against influenza A virus and human papillomavirus. PLoS One. 9(1):e88062.
Trueb, RM. 2014. North American Virginian witch hazel (Hamamelis
virginiana): Based scalp care and protection for sensitive
scalp, red scalp, and scalp burn-out. Int J Trichology.
Weil, A. Top 10 Uses For Witch Hazel. https://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/supplements-remedies/top-10-uses-for-witch-hazel/.
Wolff, H.H & M. Kieser. 2007. Hamamelis in children
with skin disorders and skin injuries: results of an
observational study. Eur J Pediatr. 166(9):943-8.
Yang, S. & C.E. Dennehy. & C. Tsourounis. 2002. Characterizing adverse events reported to the California Poison Control System on herbal remedies and dietary supplements: a pilot study. J Herb Pharmacother. 22(3):1-11.
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