Witch Hazel Decoction, How to Make and Use


Witch Hazel Decoction

I use homemade witchhazel as the base of all my liniments.  The first time I made witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) decoction from the bark I realized that what I had been buying at the store wasn’t really witch hazel at all, it was a pharmaceutical manufactured substance.  Upon further investigation I realized, the witch hazel extract available in the U.S. is a highly refined product resembling clear alcohol, rather than the decoction that I was working with. The process that they use to make the witch hazel available in US markets was steam distillation, where the  twigs and bark are distilled in vats for 36 hours, then re-heated, condensed and filtered. Alcohol is added to the final product as a preservative. The decoction that I use is entirely different full of aromatics, a deeply brown rich liquid and laced full of tannins.

Tannins are astringent, which comes from the Latin adstringere, meaning ‘to bind fast’ and astringent herbs generally exert this effect due to the presence of tannins.  Tannins are plant chemicals that bind proteins. They have the most dramatic effect on mucous membranes of by tightening tissues,which is a great trait when you are trying to converting animal hide to leather.  Tannins have many medicinal actions including:

  • drying and protecting inflamed mucous membranes
  • reducing inflammation and swelling
  • preventing bleeding from wounds and uterine bleeding
  • relieving diarrhea and dysentery

American Witchhazel has a long use among Native American tribes of the east.  The Cherokee, Chippewa, Iroquois, Menominee and Mohegan all have recorded use of American Witchhazel for dermatological, orthopedic, antidiarrheal, gynecological, febrifuge, analgesic, throat aid, cold remedy and toothache remedy.  Insect bites, lung issues, diarrhea, colds, coughs, sores, sore throat, emetic for poisoning, dysentery, hemorrhage after childbirth are just some of the uses that were documented.

hamamelis virginiana

Hamamelis virginiana

Hamamelis virginiana, from with the bark and leaves of witch hazel arise, is a small tree native to the northeastern United States. The medicinal part is the bark of the tree as well as the leaves. The bark contains 31 times more tannins than the leaf extract. Harvesting  bark from the trunk (girdling) can kill the tree, so use only fallen branches.

The properties of the leaves and bark are similar, astringent, tonic, sedative, valuable in checking internal and external hemorrhage, most efficacious in the treatment of piles, a good pain-killer for the same, useful for bruises and inflammatory swellings, also for diarrhea, dysentery and mucous discharges. Witch hazel’s use has fallen away, but for all of its medicinal qualities it is time for a resurgence of interest.

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) the properties of witch hazel would be considered a herb that stabilize and bind as its main action.  It’s energy is neutral, bitter and astringent.  Herbs in this category stop sweating, diarrhea, and the abnormal mucus discharge by tightening tissues.  In TCM formulation they are often used as an assisting herb, either helping the main herb in its action or directing the flow of energy up, down, and out.

witch hazel

Witch Hazel Bark

Making a Witch Hazel Decoction

  • Place one pound of witch hazel bark into a two-gallon stainless steel pot.
  • Cover with 1 gallon of distilled or spring water and bring the contents to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to simmer, then cover and cook for at least eight hours; add water if necessary.
  • Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
  • Strain.
  • You can preserve your tonic for long-term room temperature storage by adding nine ounces of grain alcohol
  • Yield: approximately one gallon.

Warning: Do NOT use internally! Keep out of the reach of children.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pamelacshaw
    Jul 23, 2014 @ 18:33:33

    This is great, Holly! Thank you!


  2. dyhanaverse
    Jul 23, 2014 @ 18:44:20

    nice article! Curious how you use it for mucous and diarrhea without taking it internally? Does it have the effect from absorbing from a topical application? I never thought about the witch hazel from the store being a highly processed product, but it makes sense.


    • foodscrap
      Jul 23, 2014 @ 20:07:50

      You can use it internally, although in smaller quantities, since large quantities are emetic. You would use it in the same way you would as any tincture, probably at 20-30 drops per dose. Yes it is absorbed topically, hence the action of astringing tissues.


  3. Murielle Cordemans
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 08:50:00

    yes, i made some witch hazel decoction too, but as i try to make my own deo i found the brown color staining my clothes, any suggestion for this?thanks for the wonderful article


    • foodscrap
      Jul 25, 2014 @ 20:20:56

      I am not sure I have a solution. This hasn’t happened to me, partially because I use it in my liniments that have lots of other ingredients, so it isn’t quite as strongly brown. If it is dry it won’t stain, but I can imagine if you dropped it on a light fabric or used it as a deodorant it would be staining. I guess that is the appeal of store bought witch hazel.


  4. Trackback: Which Witch? Hazel. | The Goat and the Hippie Chick
  5. Alicia
    Dec 02, 2014 @ 16:39:37

    This is a great post! I had no idea there were so many uses for witch hazel. I usually always consult my physician before I try an alternative treatment, but these are great tips. Thanks for sharing!


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