A whole lot of years ago, I had a friend who was a song writer. Whenever I went to see my friend, I noticed a small, flat, square flask sitting on his writing desk. The bottle had wicker woven around the flask, but no label. One day I asked what he had in the little flask. He said, “That's my inspiration.” Now, I knew that my friend didn't drink at all so I asked, “Inspiration?”
He took the bottle and put a dab in his palm and rubbed it and took a whiff of the fragrance and said, “Pure heaven.” He handed me the bottle to smell, so I put a few drops in my hand and did like he did. I took a whiff of my palms and said, “This smells great, what is this stuff?” He smiled and said, “ My friend is switch hazel. They take some witch hazel, add a little bay rum and some herbs and make it into colognes and after shave lotions. If I need a mood elevator or inspiration, just a few drops of that fragrance picks up my spirit.” I thought of what a great gift this little tree has been to mankind. Besides being a medicine for man, its fragrance, with the help of a couple of other herbs, can raise a man's spirit.
When the pilgrims came to America, the Indians shared the secret of their sacred witch hazel tree with them. They taught them how to use the leaf, bark, and twigs in order to make liniment to help cuts, bruises and abrasions and sore muscles. This little tree likes rich, moist ground and partial shade. It grows 10 or 15 feet high. The leaves are 3 to 5 inches long, are ovate with shallow-toothed edges.
The leaves are lopsided and are brownish-green on top and light green and hairy underneath. Leaves appear in the early spring and fall off in late summer. Then the buds occur at the base of the leaves. The blossoms, which look like long, yellow fringe, bloom from September through November after the leaves fall off the tree. These long straps of yellow fringe hang to the seed pod which matures two black seeds the following spring and summer. The next fall, when the seeds ripen, the pods pop open and throw the seeds up to 20 feet from the tree. For this reason the tree has names like “winter bloom” or “popping or snapping hazelnut.”
The name witch hazel has nothing to do with witches. Some say the original name was spelled “wych,” which means flexible. The branches of this tree are very flexible and have been used for divining, dousing, or witching for water. The wood has also been used to make bows for hunting. Every year, millions of gallons of witch hazel liquid is sold for health and beauty products. Tht's quite an endorsement. Witch hazel is an astringent. Indians and Pilgrims steeped twigs and leaves into a tea for bleeding ulcers and hemorrhages for bleeding gums and nose bleeds, for intestinal bleeding and hemorrhoids, varicose veins and leg tumors. It was used for coughs, cold and sore throats, heavy phlegm and even bleeding from the lungs. It has been used for female problems such as leucorrhea, threatened abortion and vaginitis. A week solution is even used for the eyes.
Most liniments are made from witch hazel and other herbs. It tones up the muscles and reduces swelling. Witch hazel is good for stings and bites. Not long ago, we went four-wheeling up in the mountains by a small lake. I swear that lake and marsh were a mosquito factory. The next morning, had no less 50 mosquito bites all over me. I would have put some plantain juice on the stings, but I couldn't find any plantain. However, I did have some weak witch hazel lotion along. As long as I kept the witch hazel lotion on the bites, I got a long fine.
Nature provides so many wonderful plants ans shrubs for us to use. It's too bad we don't use them more than we do.