Fall foraging: How to find and use witch hazel

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witch hazel

It’s officially fall and there’s no denying the change in the weather this year. The crisp chill in the air is definitely a little more stirring than a warm summer breeze, but it’s not necessarily uninviting. Admittedly, I love the smell of the damp leaves, disappearing blossoms and final fruits of the growing season that the wind carries out of the woods.

As a year-round hiker, fall might be my favorite season. There are so many fruits and nuts to forage, native seeds to collect and wildlife to observe well into November. It’s also a great time to forage for medicinal plants in the Midwest.

I was reminded of one such plant with a number of medicinal qualities, reading Penn State Extension’s Spooktacular Flora and Fungi. Witch hazel is an astringent plant used for reducing inflammation, soothing skin and tightening and toning tissue. It also has unique blossoms with ribbon-like petals that last into late fall.

Identifying witch hazel

Witch hazel is a native deciduous shrub that grows in woodland areas along forest margins and stream banks.

Trunk. Witch hazel generally has a branching trunk with smooth, grey bark. It can grow up to 30 feet tall and have a similar spread.

Leaves. Its leaves are green and oblong to obovate with wavy margins.

Flowers. Witch hazel is the last flower to bloom in the woods. Small, fragrant yellow flowers with four ribbon-shaped petals form in clusters from October to December.

Fruits. Its fruits start as greenish seed capsules that become woody and brown as they mature.

How to forage for witch hazel

Witch hazel should be harvested in late fall from October to December when it’s in bloom. Its flowers, leaves and twig tips can be collected to use fresh or to be dried and used later.

Medicinal uses

Witch hazel has astringent qualities, which means it causes the contraction of skin cells and other body tissues to reduce inflammation, sooth skin and tighten and tone tissue.It can be used a wound wash, a topical treatment or consumed as a tea.

Witch hazel tonic

Treatment: Can help tighten and tone skin tissue when applies topically.

Preparation

  1. Add equal parts chopped witch hazel flowers, leaves and twigs to a large pot and cover with distilled water.
  2. Cover the pot and bring the contents to a boil, simmering for several hours.
  3. Periodically add water to the pot to keep the plant material covered.
  4. After 6-8 hours of simmering, remove the pot and cool and strain the liquid into a bottle.
  5. Store it in the refrigerator.
  6. Apply the tonic to your skin to tighten and tone facial tissue or to a cool, damp cloth to soothe hemorrhoids.

Witch hazel tea

Treatment: Tightens and tones tissue. 

Preparation

  1. Steep ½ tsp flowers, leaves and twigs in a cup of boiling water.
  2. Can be consumed orally or applied topically as a skin wash.

Witch hazel-infused vinegar

Treatment: Tightens and tones tissues. Can be used as a wound wash to soothe skin and reduce inflammation.

  1. Soak one part fresh, chopped flowers, leaves and twigs in two parts raw apple cider vinegar.
  2. Let the witch hazel soak for a month to 6 weeks in the vinegar before using.

Resources

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