Even though witch hazel is known mostly as a North American herb, the word itself was first referenced in a 1541 Act of Parliament during the reign of King Henry VIII. This potent astringent has been so widely accepted as a remedy for cuts, bruises and even hemorrhoids, that over a million gallons a year are sold in just the United States each year. Native Americans were adept at using witch hazel for many issues. Externally they applied it to insect bites, sore joints and muscles, cuts and bruises and minor burns. Internally (which is not suggested) they drank the tea to stop internal bleeding.
There are several stories about how witch hazel got its name, from the branches being used for brooms to the sound the flower makes when popping out its seeds to even its popularity as a dousing rod. One colonist who learned the healing properties of witch hazel from a native of the Oneida tribe would eventually concoct and mass produce a healing ointment from the herb, calling it “Pond’s Golden Treasure.” Early American attempts to bottle distilled witch hazel leaves were watered down versions of the actual bark decoction that the Native Americans used. Today, the steam distilled witch hazel has little tannins from the bark but is still used as an astringent.
You will find witch hazel water as an ingredient in many over the counter hemorrhoid treatments. Witch hazel can also be combined with chamomile and hydrocortisone for sunburn treatment. Witch hazel is considered a safe external astringent. Using Witch Hazel internally is almost never recommended and can be dangerous.