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Hamamelis virginiana


Hamamelis virginiana


No documentation

Vernacular Name

Witch hazel, Snapping Hazel, Spotted Alder, Striped Alder, Tobacco Wood, Winterbloom, Wych-hazel, Hamamelis. (1)


Occasionally reaching a height of 10m, Hamamelis virginiana  averages a height of 6m, with a trunk diameter of 40cm. The thin bark is brown externally with reddish inside.  The young branches have a yellow tint and are covered with small hairs, and become smooth and grey with maturity. The small, unisexual flowers are unique in that they do not bloom until late in the fall, or even early into the winter, after the leaves of the tree have fallen. The golden flowers grow in clusters at the end of short stems. The asymmetrical leaves grow opposite one another on the stems.

Origin / Habitat

H. virginiana, or witch hazel, is a large deciduous shrub located throughout the Eastern half of the North American continent, most often in the understory of deciduous forests and in wetlands.

Chemical Constituents

Hamamelitannin, monogalloyl hamameloses, catechin, gallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, epigallocatechin gallate, oligomeric procyanadins.(2)

Plant Part Used

Leaves, twigs, and barks from the roots, stems, trunks and branches.(9)

Traditional Use

H. virginiana has been widely used by Native American tribes across the eastern half of North America. The topical applications made from the bark and twigs included infusions, poultices and decoctions. In all cases, these various applications were used to treat common wounds, bruises and skin conditions.(4) In some instances, tribes would use a combination of preparations for a particular condition such as the combination of poultice and decoction used by the Iroquois to treat bruising.(5) The Menominee used a decoction topically to give an athlete nimble legs and also used an infusion of the twigs internally to treat back problems. For general muscle soreness, twigs from H. virginiana were used in a steam bath by the Potawatomi tribe.(6)

H. virginiana has also been used to treat various throat and lung ailments. The Cherokee used an infusion of branches to treat colds, while the Iroquois used both a decoction and poultice of young branches. Similar respiratory conditions were treated using a decoction or infusion of the bark by the Iroquois and Cherokee. This particular treatment extended to diseases such as tuberculosis.(7) In regard to women’s health, tribes such as the Cherokee and the Iroquois used H. virginiana to promote gynecological health. Additionally, the Iroquois used a compound decoction of H. virginiana to treat post-partum hemorrhage whereas the Cherokee used an infusion to ease the pain experienced during menstruation.(8)

Additional and miscellaneous uses of H. virginiana by the Iroquois include a general health tonic and a blood purifier. A decoction from the leaves and twigs was used by the Iroquois to treat “cold around the heart” as well.(9) To stimulate kidney health, the Iroquois used a decoction of twigs and a poultice made from the bark simultaneously. A decoction and an infusion made from the bark of H. virginiana was also used to stimulate appetite and combat dysentery respectively by the Iroquois tribe. A compound decoction was used, most likely for its astringent properties, to treat venereal disease. As an analgesic, the Iroquois used an internal compound to treat the symptoms of arthritis, and the whole plant to ease the pain of toothache.(7)


5-10 g Topical decoction.

2-4 ml Extract three times daily.(2)

H. virginiana water is diluted 1:3. Poultices 20–30% in semi-solid preparation.(3)



H. virginiana inhibited cellular proliferation in certain human colon cancer lines. The gallate esters located within the plant were determined to be active constituents in the process.(13) It was also found to inhibit TNF induced cell death in an in vitro study.(14) The free radical scavenging ability of H. virginiana was verified by a 2008 study, and it was determined that the gallate moieties were more effective in free radical scavenging than the procyanidins in grape or pine.(15) One of the major chemical components of H. virginiana, hamamelitannin, has displayed strong free radical scavenging activity, and may be developed to prevent peroxynitrate related diseases.(16),(17) The proanthocyanidins in H. virginiana exhibited anti-mutagenic activity, acting directly as desmutagens.(18)

The hydroalcoholic extract of H. virginiana was found to display antiviral activity against Herpes simplex virus. The same study found that H. virginiana displayed anti-inflammatory activity in a croton oil ear edema test in mice.(19) In a separate study, H. virginiana demonstrated antibacterial activity in a periodontal setting.(20)



The topical application of H. virginiana in effectively treating various skin conditions has been challenged in several studies with moderately positive outcomes. One study compared the use of the herb in ointment form against dexpanthenol ointment in children aged 27 days to 11 years.  All of the measurable parameters were almost identical in both groups of children with a significant improvement in the initial skin condition for both the H. virginiana group and the dexpanthenol group.(10) Similarly, a single case study reported using H. virginiana as a treatment for an accidental burn from a sodium hypochlorite solution.(11)

H. virginiana has displayed anti-inflammatory action, specifically in UVB-induced erythema, caused from sun burn. In a human study, 30 volunteers were treated with as lotion containing a 10% H. virginiana distillate for 48 hours after irradiation. The suppression of erythema was 27% at the end of the trial, compared to the 11-15% of the control subjects.(12)


Interaction and Depletions

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation


Interaction with Drugs

No documentation


Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

H. virginiana is considered safe when used as directed especially when prepared and used for topical application. Internal use may cause stomach upset.

In dosages above the recommended amount internal use of the bark can cause liver damage.(3)


Not to be used by pregnant or nursing women.

Age limitation

Not to be used by children unless directed by physician.

Adverse reaction

No documentation

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  1) Western Herbs


  1. Sievers AF. The herb hunters guide. USDA, Washington DC: Misc. Publ.; 1930. p. 77.
  2. Thomson Healthcare. PDR for herbal medicines. Montvale, NJ: Thomson Healthcare Inc.; 2007.
  3. Wichtl M. Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals. CRC Press; 1989. p. 246.
  4. Ebadi M. Pharmacodynamic basis of herbal medicine. CRC Press; 2001. p. 48.
  5. Lewis W, Elvin-Lewis M. Medical botany. 2nd edition. Wiley Press; 2003.
  6. Moerman DE. Native American ethnobotany. Portland OR: Timber Press; 2009.
  7. Moerman D. Native American ethnobotany. University of Michigan. Available from [Accessed on May 16, 2009].
  8. Mooney J. Myths of the cherokee and sacred formulas of the cherokees. TN: Charles and Randy Elders Publishers; 1982.
  9. Johansen BE. Native peoples of North America. Rutgers University Press; 1950.
  10. Wolff HH, Kieser M. Hamamelis in children with skin disorders and skin injuries: results of an observational study. Eur J Pediatr. 2007 Sep;166(9):943-948.
  11. Serper A, Ozbek M, Calt S. Accidental sodium hypochlorite-induced skin injury during endodontic treatment. J Endod. 2004 Mar;30(3):180-181.
  12. Hughes-Formella BJ, Bohnsack K, Rippke F, Benner G, Rudolph M, Tausch I, Gassmueller J. Anti-inflammatory effect of hamamelis lotion in a UVB erythema test. Dermatology. 1998;196(3):316-322.
  13. Lizárraga D, Touriño S, Reyes-Zurita FJ, de Kok TM, van Delft JH, Maas LM, Briedé JJ, Centelles JJ, Torres JL, Cascante M. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) fractions and the importance of gallate moieties--electron transfer capacities in their antitumoral properties. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Dec 24;56(24):11675-11682.
  14. Habtemariam S. Hamamelitannin from Hamamelis virginiana inhibits the tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF)-induced endothelial cell death in vitro. Toxicon. 2002 Jan;40(1):83-88.
  15. Touriño S, Lizárraga D, Carreras A, Lorenzo S, Ugartondo V, Mitjans M, Vinardell MP, Juliá L, Cascante M, Torres JL. Highly galloylated tannin fractions from witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bark: electron transfer capacity, in vitro antioxidant activity, and effects on skin-related cells. Chem Res Toxicol. 2008 Mar;21(3):696-704.
  16. Choi HR, Choi JS, Han YN, Bae SJ, Chung HY. Peroxynitrite scavenging activity of herb extracts. Phytother Res. 2002 Jun;16(4):364-367.
  17. Dauer A, Hensel A, Lhoste E, Knasmüller 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 May;63(2):199-207.
  18. Dauer A, Metzner P, Schimmer O. Proanthocyanidins from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana exhibit antimutagenic properties against nitroaromatic compounds. Planta Med. 1998 May;64(4):324-327.
  19. Erdelmeier CA, Cinatl J Jr, Rabenau H, Doerr HW, Biber A, Koch E. Antiviral and antiphlogistic activities of Hamamelis virginiana bark. Planta Med. 1996 Jun;62(3):241-245.
  20. Lo Bue AM, Milazzo I, Rapisarda A, Blandino G. Antibacterial activity of medicinal plant extracts against periodontopathic bacteria. Phytother Res. 2003 Jun;17(6):599-604.

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