Do you grow witch hazel? It is a beautiful ornamental in the home garden, and it can be harvested to make a simple, healing facial toner that reduces inflammation, acne, and fights signs of aging. In addition to that, the plant is hardy and easy to care for. Read on to find out how and why to grow this stunning, healing little tree and how to harvest and use it at home.
Witch hazel has that name because it once was popularly used for water witching, or the practice of using a branch to locate water underground. Nowadays, witch hazel is prized for its anti-inflammatory and skincare properties, as well as its showy wintertime blooms. A spritz of witch hazel on your skin after the shower helps tone skin and reduce redness and inflammation.
Witch hazels can get up to about 15 feet in height at their tallest. These small trees produce beautiful dramatic flowers in shades of yellow and red that look like starbursts. When a witch hazel flowers, it looks like a fireworks display, which is all the more stunning because it happens in winter when there is not much other color in the garden. You can also harvest the bark and use that to make your own distilled witch hazel water to use as facial toner or to add to natural beauty recipes.
Growing Witch Hazel in the Home Garden
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis spp.) is categorized as a small tree or shrub that spans from 5-15 feet wide and up to 20-30 feet tall. There are a few common witch hazels worth noting: American witch-hazel (H. virginiana), Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis), and Ozark witch hazel (H. vernalis ). H. virginiana blooms in the late fall and is listed in herbalism resources as a medicinal herb. H. vernalis blooms in January-March. H. mollis is more common in horticulture as these fragrant shrubs bloom in the later winter with larger flowers and a large variety of ornamental blooms from white to deep red.
It’s base is a dense, multi-stemmed trunk that twists decoratively and creates a lovely ornamental structure. Hardy in zones 5-8, witch hazels bring gorgeous color to the fall and winter garden. The flowers bloom can be found blooming near me (in the Pacfic Northwest) in January, but you may smell the spicy, citrusy scent first! Witch hazel is easy to grow and care for if you follow these simple steps.
Planting Witch Hazel
Choose a sunny or partially shady location that is sheltered from wind to plant your witch hazel. This fragrant winter bloomer is ideal planted near the front door so you can enjoy the pop of colour and the fragrance when you pass by. You want well-draining soil that is rich in humus, so dig some organic compost into the ground before planting.
Care and Pruning
Witch hazels need quite a bit of moisture, especially when the plants are young and still getting established, so check the soil frequently and water as needed.
Prune all damaged and dead wood on the plant once a year and remove suckers in the fall. Witch hazels generally do not need a lot of attention when it comes to pruning, as they have a naturally neat branch structure. Just clean them up a bit as needed and they will be fine. Be sure to hang on to the branches you have pruned, as these are what you can use to make a wonderful natural astringent (read more at the end of this post).
For more information on pruning, check out these posts:
- Learn how to Prune like a Pro! Pruning 101
- Want to Know WHEN to Prune? This Will Answer All of Your Questions!
Witch hazels also take well to espalier training if you wish to grow them in a small space.
Harvesting and Drying Witch Hazel
While you may just want your witch hazel for ornamental reasons, you can also harvest the bark and use that to make a gentle astringent for skin.
To harvest the bark, clip off some of the plant’s smaller branches in the spring or fall. You can remove up to a fifth of the plant without damaging it, but don’t harvest more than that at one time.
Remove all leaves and flowers from the harvested branches and use a sharp knife to peel the bark away from the branches. You can either use the bark right away, or dry it by spreading it out in a single layer in a drying tray or shallow basket in a dry location that has good air circulation. When the bark is completely dried (it will feel crispy to the touch), store it in an airtight container for future use.
Witch Hazel Toner
Witch hazel can also help to heal bruises, cuts, scrapes, insect bites, rashes, and other skin problems and can be added to many natural beauty recipes to give them healing properties. A spritz of witch hazel on your face when you get out of the shower acts as a natural toner. Spraying it on recently shaved skin helps to prevent ingrown hairs and bumps. Don’t even get me started about how great it feels to reduce the inflammation on rashes and sunburns!
I keep a bit of witch hazel toner in a small atomizer in my bathroom medicine cabinet to spray on my face after the shower, and my legs and underarms after shaving. It has a neutral pH of 5 so it’s wonderful as a toner as well as to calm down red and inflamed skin whether it’s from cuts, scrapes, blemishes, redness, or razor rash from shaving.
Witch hazel toner can be found online and in most natural grocery stores like Whole Foods. Just look on the shelves for a natural brand of witch hazel without alcohol and add it to your own atomizer. I use a witch hazel formula with rose added because rose tightens up pores and gives you the appearance of a fresh English Rose, but if you have acne or skin disorders on the face, then an aloe formulation may be more helpful.
Witch Hazel Decocotion Recipe
To make your own witch hazel toner, chop the harvested bark into small pieces and add to a pot, cover with distilled water, and bring to a boil. Use 1 tablespoon of chopped bark per cup of water, Simmer the water and bark on low for about 30 minutes. Strain out the bark and store the toner in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Apply it as you would the store bought version.