Hamamelis virginica. Witch Hazel.
Nat. Ord. — Hamamelaceae. Sex. Syst. — Tetrandria Virginica.
The Bark and Leaves.
Description. — This is an indigenous shrub, sometimes called Winterbloom, Snapping-hazlenut, Spotted Alder, etc. ; it consists of several crooked, branching trunks from the same root, from four to six inches in diameter, ten or twelve feet in hight, and covered with a smooth gray bark. The leaves are on short petioles, alternate, oval or obovate, acuminate, obliquely subcordate at base, margin crenate-dentate, scabrous with minute elevated spots beneath, from three to five inches long, and two-thirds as wide. The flowers are yellow, on short pedicels, three or four together in an involucrate, axillary, subsessile glomerule. The calyx is small, and divided into four, thick, oval, pubescent segments, with an involucel of two or three bracts at base. Petals four, yellow, three-quarters of an inch long, linear, curled or twisted. Stamens four, fertile, alternate with the petals, and four, sterile at their base. Ovary ovate, with two short styles, crowned by obtuse stigmas. Fruit a nut-like capsule, bilobate and split above, yellowish, pubescent, with two cells, each containing an oblong, shining black seed, which seeds are dispersed by the elastic valves of the capsule opening rapidly.
History. — This plant grows in almost all sections of the United States, especially in damp woods, flowering from September to November, when the leaves are falling, and maturing its seeds the next summer. The bark and leaves are the parts used in medicine; they have a pleasant, aromatic odor, and a bitter, astringent taste, leaving a sense of pungency and sweetishness in the mouth. Water extracts their virtues. No analysis has been made of them. The shoots are used as divining-rods to discover water and metals under ground, by certain adepts in the occult arts.
Properties and Uses. — Witch Hazel is tonic, astringent, and sedative. The decoction of the bark is very useful in hemoptysis, hematemesis, and other hemorrhages, as well as in diarrhea, dysentery, and excessive mucous discharges. It has been employed with advantage in incipient phthisis, in which it is supposed to unite anodyne influences with its others. Reputed to have been used by the Indians as a sedative and discutient in painful tumors, and external inflammations. The decoction may be advantageously used as a wash or injection for sore-mouth, painful tumors, external inflammations, bowel complaints, prolapsus ani and uteri, leucorrhea, gleet, and ophthalmia. An ointment made with lard and a decoction of white oak bark, apple-tree bark, and witch hazel, has been found a valuable application to piles. The following forms a useful preparation: — Take equal parts of witch hazel bark, golden seal, and lobelia leaves, the first two made into a strong decoction, after which add the lobelia to the hot liquid, and cover; when cold, strain. With this decoction as a collyrium, I have succeeded in curing the most obstinate and long standing cases of ophthalmia, as have many other practitioners to whom I have named it. Dose of decoction, from two to four fluidounces, three or four times a day.
Off. Prep. — Decoctum Hamamelis.