Description: Natural Order, Hamamelaceae. The witch hazel is a large shrub, consisting of several crooked and branching stems arising from the same root, and forming a bushy clump from eight to ten feet high. Leaves alternate, three to five inches long, and two-thirds as broad, acuminate, obliquely cordate at the base, on petioles half an inch long, stipules deciduous. Flowers sessile, three, four or more in an involucrate, axillary cluster, yellow; calyx cohering to the lower part of the ovary, four-parted; petals four, inserted on the calyx, long, narrow. Stamens eight, short, four of them imperfect. Pistils of two short styles, united below, forming a two- celled and woody pod or nutlet, which opens at the top by elastic valves into two cells, each cell with a single black seed.
This shrub is found in nearly all sections of the United States and Canada, in damp woods and low meadows. It blooms late in the autumn, as its leaves are falling; and its seeds ripen the following summer.
Properties and Uses: The leaves of this shrub are a mild but reliable astringent, with gentle tonic qualities. It is quite soothing in its influence; and is one in a small list of plants which combine diffusive relaxant properties with astringency. (§257.) This fact gives it a peculiar action, and renders it one of the most available of all the astringents in the second stages of dysentery and diarrhea, in hemorrhage from the bowels and bladder, catarrh of the bladder, nursing sore mouth, gonorrhea, and similar difficulties. It soothes the bowels rather than excites them, as many astringents do; and is an admirable wash in leucorrhea, prolapsus uteri and ani, and purulent ophthalmia, especially when combined with hydrastis. Associated with a small portion of capsicum, it is peculiarly effective in arresting uterine hemorrhage and passive menorrhagia; and combined with cypripedium or caulophyllum, will materially expedite parturition in nervous patients, and relieve after pains. It often acts mildly upon the kidneys. It does not dry the mucous membranes so positively as the leaves of sumac or the bark of hemlock; but rather resembles the uva ursi, though less tonic and more transient in action. It is usually exhibited as infusion, made by digesting two drachms in half a pint of warm water. The dose of this may range from half a fluid ounce to two ounces, every four or two hours, as circumstances require. When used as a vaginal injection, it requires to be made much stronger.
The bark is said to possess the same properties, but is rarely used.
A fluid extract may be made by treating the herb with 50 percent alcohol, as for boneset. None but glass or porcelain implements should be used.
The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com