Witch Hazel

Think of it as an early holiday gift, as a season’s last gasp, or even as the foreshadowing of seasons future. Witch Hazel is in bloom.  The last flowering tree of the year, it lights up the early winter forest like nothing else. Wild witch hazel (say that three times fast) has a subtle, delicate yellow bloom. Because the flower is sparsely distributed along the branch, it doesn’t make a riot of yellow burst through the forest.  More like an Impressionist painting, there is a little dab of color here and a bit there. The tree is very easy to miss through the haze of autumn leaves. It blends prettily into the landscape and you could easily walk right by it. The delicate blooms soon give way to the winter chill so we are lucky to have quite a number of witch hazel shrubs to enjoy along our Woodland Trail. If one shrub has gone by, another further on might yet have flowers. So there is still a chance to have a glimpse before winter really gets here.

IMG_2037Nearly everyone has heard of witch hazel.   As one of the great natural remedies, its efficacy over a host of ailments led it into commercial production in the 1800’s and business continues to boom even today.  Used as an astringent, hair tonic, aftershave, bug repellant, and sunburn salve, it is also known to be an effective antiseptic, hemorroidal balm, anti-diarrheal and cure for varicose veins.  It is said that the benefits of witch hazel were passed down from Native Americans to the early settlers.  When you consider how things turned out, it would have been better if they had just let infection, dysentary, bad skin and piles send the settlers packing right back to Europe.  No good deed goes unpunished.

East Hampton, Connecticut is the witch hazel capital of the world.  Just a piece down the road from us here in Farmington, East Hampton is home to Dickinson’s Witch Hazel, the largest manufacturer of it.  They’ve been making the stuff since 1866.  They do a big business and are pretty much the dernier cri in natural skin care and first aid products using Virginiana Hamemelis, the latin name for witch hazel.  I’m zipping my mouth shut about our stash of the plant up here in Farmington, just in case they ever run short.

Like most plants, Witch Hazel has many names.  One, “Snapping Hazel”, refers to the shrub’s crafty habit of explosively spewing out its’ seeds, casting them far and wide to ensure propagation without overcrowding. Another, “Winter Bloom” is somewhat self-explanatory but I prefer it to all others.   It is pleasant to think of the pretty little tree lighting the woods with color in defiance of ever-earlier darkening skies and dropping temperatures.   It’s a reminder to be doughty in the face of harder days upcoming and a celebration of quiet beauty that merits a search through the early winter forests.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker,Estate Naturalist


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5 Responses to “Witch Hazel”

  1. Micah Says:

    This is a great post.. Very informative… I can see that you put a lot of hard work on your every post that’s why I think I’d come here more often. Keep it up! By the way, you can also drop by my blogs. They’re about Vegetable Gardening and Composting. I’m sure you’d find my blogs helpful too.

    • hillsteadnatureblog Says:

      Thank you very much! I will take a look at your site-I am an avid veg gardener, and have two big compost containers going. Cheers, Diane

  2. Elizabeth Enslin Says:

    Thanks for the informative post. Witch Hazels are one of my favorites. You’re lucky to have so many around you.

  3. kitty Says:

    Gorgeous photography – and the yellow flowers are beautiful against the grey winter woods.

  4. Rambling Woods Says:

    I came via the Tree Festival…I didn’t know what witch hazel looked like but I like your suggestion that the native Americans should have let the settlers suffer….Michelle

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