Witch Hazel Extract - Day 233 - Haiku - Great for Skin, Hair, and So Much More! UPDATED - with Instructions
Witch hazel extract
So many wondrous uses
Healthy gift for all!
I had intended to follow up my last post on the following day, but life happens, and for a few days my schedule went out the window. But I'm back, and here is the second half of the post.
Interestingly, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, witch hazel is the single most popular botanical extract in the world. This is not surprising considering how incredibly useful it is.
In fact, I found the following quote in his article quite interesting:
"The first successful mass-produced American skincare product, debuted in 1846, was “Golden Treasure,” later renamed Pond’s Cold Cream. It was based on wild-harvested witch hazel, which company chemists learned about from Native Americans in New York state."
I remember ads for Pond's Cold Cream when I was a kid, my grandmother used it occasionally, and yet I never had any idea that its' primary active ingredient was witch hazel, despite my grandmother being a plant judge, and having worked a stint with the State Botanist of New Mexico. As much as she taught me about plants, she never mentioned that, or if she did I've forgotten.
Dr. Weil continues: "Today, witch hazel has many uses which makes it the most popular topical botanical in the world. It is part of the base used in toners, cleaners and makeup removers made by large skincare companies including Revlon, Neutrogena, L’Oreal and Estée Lauder."
Live and learn.
Above you can see what the extract looked like before straining: a rich, deep brown, entirely unlike the leaf-only extract I made last year. Good stuff.
The basic instructions I used are as follows:
Gather witch hazel branches, twigs, flowers and leaves.
As I mentioned in the last post, by the time I gathered the twigs, the leaves were dried and brown, and most of the flowers had faded. But there were still some open flowers, and I had taken a number of fresh green leaves a couple of weeks earlier and refrigerated them, to give more of a full-spectrum extract. But using all faded flowers and brown leaves, if that's all you have to work with, would work as well.
I didn't weigh the plant materials I used, but in the large pot I used, which holds around 2 1/2 gallons, or roughly ten liters, once the twigs were finely chopped, the plant material filled slightly under half of the pot.
All told, I cut five small branches/twigs from around the base of the shrub, cut them with pruners into roughly 1" (2.5 cm) pieces, and included all the leaves. I crushed the leaves in my hands, to break many of the cell walls, but didn't bother chopping them.
I then added enough filtered water to fully cover all the plant material, and turned the burner to between warm and low, which on our stove holds the perfect temperature for the water to be just steaming, but below an actual simmer, and thus perfect for extracting.
In the end, rather than extracting it for eight hours, the maximum time used in any of the online instructions I ran across, I allowed the witch hazel to extract for a full twenty-four hours, simply because that is what my instinct told me to do. Since the vast majority of time I only run into problems when I don't follow my vibes, I've learned to listen to them, and rarely go wrong when I do.
I strained through an extremely fine mesh stainless steel strainer, which excludes the vast majority of the solid plant material, but if tiny fragments make their way through I'm basically okay with that, though thus far I've found none.
Through sheer luck and happenstance, I wound up with just a shade over a gallon of extract, which when cut 1:1 with 100 proof vodka, gave me two full gallons of preserved extract at 25% ABV (alcohol by volume). An ample amount for our purposes.
If I do a commercial batch next year, meaning several times what I made this year, then I will likely use a second straining and filter out even the smallest plant materials, whether or not I do any distilling after the extraction. At this point, however, I'm a home brewer, and I'm not worried about tiny imperfections in an overall great product.
I know that many people extract with rubbing alcohol, but I'm a big believer in not putting anything on my skin that isn't safe to eat, and I adhere to that rule whenever possible. By using food grade alcohol I am eliminating the possibility of the chemical contaminants contained in some rubbing alcohols.
So, while I wouldn't advocate drinking witch hazel extract, it is certainly safer to gargle with and/or to use on sores in and around the mouth, than it would be if it were made with rubbing alcohol. And I personally feel much better about putting it on my skin.
There are those who do recommend taking witch hazel internally, usually in the form of a tea, but I've never done that, and so cannot recommend it personally. Evidently witch hazel can damage the kidney and liver if too much is taken, but like sassafras, it is likely fairly safe in smaller amounts.
For those questioning the color, commercial witch hazel extracts are distilled after extracting, hence the reason why they are clear, and not dark brown. They also typically use a tiny fraction of the amount of chopped plant material that I used to make this extract.
We do own a small distiller, so I may play around with distilling some next year, when I make a far larger amount of extract. But I'm inclined to think that simpler is better, as a general rule, so I may not bother. It depends upon how much else I have going on at the time.
I don't mind the color, it doesn't stain when I've used it on my skin, it leaves no residue, and most importantly, it works well.
I've loved and used witch hazel extract for years, and generally use it as my facial toner, which is both healing and very refreshing. Please note that, although one of the articles I've linked to includes a recipe for toner using witch hazel, I use it straight without any additional ingredients.
It is great for any kind of skin issues, from scrapes and bruises to sunburn, rashes, eczema and psoriasis, acne and varicose veins. For varicose veins, bruises and other more serious skin issues, the typical instructions are to moisten a compress, then hold it in place over the affected skin with your hand or a wrapped bandage. Greater results come from repeated use.
It is also great for hemorrhoids, which are of course a type of varicose vein, and helps to reduce the pain and itch and to bring down the swelling quickly. This is due primarily to its astringent properties, which draw the skin together more tightly, and it is also soothing and highly anti-inflammatory.
Witch hazel is the active ingredient in Preparation H, as well as other hemorrhoid creams, and has been well known for this use for decades.
In fact, when I first moved to Tampa, Florida, I learned much to my surprise that Preparation H is (or at least was) much beloved by some of the local drag queens, for its ability to make their facial skin appear much smoother.
I was in a local coffee shop late one night, looking pretty bedraggled from a lingering cold, when one of them advised me to use it to get rid of the dark circles under my eyes. I didn't try it then, but I did try it later, and it worked great. ;-)
Lying down for fifteen minutes with a witch hazel-soaked compress over your eyes will give a similar result. In fact, at the end of a hard day, this will also have the effect of brightening the eyes and removing redness, while tightening the skin around the eyes, reducing any puffiness and dark circles under the eyes.
Small wonder that witch hazel is also a primary ingredient in a number of anti-aging creams.
More recently I learned that you can gargle with witch hazel extract to ward off colds and relieve canker sores, and if you swish it in your mouth and brush your teeth with it, you can treat and prevent bleeding gums and periodontal disease.
For Lolo, who has a severe flea allergy, I make a flea and tick repellent that consists of equal parts of witch hazel extract and liquid aloe gel, say a cup each, with roughly 25 - 40 drops of essential oils such as geranium, lemongrass, lemon eucalyptus, grapefruit, rosemary, peppermint and others known to be strongly repellent against biting insects.
I learned while researching this post that vanillin will help to extend the effective time of the mixture, so I'll be adding it to the mix in the future.
Of course Lolo hates the mixture, as the scents of the essential oils are overwhelming to his finely tuned canine sense of smell, so he makes a great (and often hilarious) show of rubbing it off on the carpet after I rub it into his fur. But it helps immensely, helps to heal the bites (if any) already received, and seems especially effective against ticks.
I, on the other hand love the smell, love that it is good for my skin, and use the lotion I make for Lolo liberally when I'm working outside. I've never gotten a tick bite when I've used it, and our acreage has a lot of ticks.
In fact, according to this source, pouring a capful of witch hazel extract on a tick will cause the tick to retract its head from its host, making removal easy, and the bite can be disinfected with a bit of additional witch hazel extract.
Gentle, and reportedly, quite effective.
So what other benefits and uses are there for witch hazel extract? Plenty.
In case of swimmers ear, itchy ears or even a budding ear infection, a couple of drops of witch hazel extract in the ear will resolve the issue quickly, relieving the itching and any pain quickly.
Witch hazel can be dabbed on the scalp between shampoos to eliminate excess oil, with the additional benefit that it is healing to the scalp and hair, and helps to prevent dandruff.
Witch hazel is a fabulous cleaner, makes a great counter top and/or floor cleaner, and when used to clean windows, mirrors and other glass, dries without streaking.
Witch hazel extract is among the gentlest ways of preventing and healing diaper rash and other rashes in both children and adults.
Because of its anti-inflammatory and hemostatic properties, witch hazel helps to heal minor cuts and scrapes more quickly. Witch hazel can be used to clean minor wounds, and stop any bleeding, as it has styptic properties.
For bruises, apply three times daily, ideally using a compress, for faster healing.
Witch hazel can be effectively used to treat and prevent acne, reduce scars and stretch marks, relieve sunburn, remove hair dye from skin, normalize oily skin, clean pet ears, treat bug bites, remove makeup, relieve rashes from poison ivy and poison oak, double as an effective deodorant, relieve allergic hives, and much, much more.
I had never even heard of many of these uses for witch hazel prior to beginning this post. Learning is wonderful!
Please note that I am not a health care practitioner, nothing herein is intended to provide or replace sound medical advice, and I am giving my own opinions based upon the research I have done in order to provide myself and my loved ones with natural alternatives to the often chemical-laden commercial products that are readily available.
Please do your own due diligence and, if faced with any health malady, consult with your own health care practitioner before starting any new regimen.
Allergies to witch hazel are relatively rare, but they do occur, so if you have not used it in the past, proceed with caution. Do a patch test on a small portion of skin, then wait for a full 24 hours, to make certain that you have no adverse reactions before going further.
Thank you so much for reading!
This post, and all those from now until the end of 2018, I am dedicating to the work of #tarc and #yah, aka @rhondak's nonprofit Appalachian dog rescue, and @sircork's international charity @youarehope.
Half the liquid proceeds earned from my posts will be evenly split between the two organizations, and more when I can manage it.
The photos above were taken by me within the past two weeks with my Samsung Note 8 smartphone.
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