The gray winter landscape explodes with color and texture when witch hazel blooms, heralding the spring, each January, February and March. Spidery flowers, whose ribbon petals are like crinkled paper, come in vibrant yellow, dusty orange and faded burgundy. A favorite of the winter garden, Hamamelis is known for striking winter blooms and brilliant fall color, with leaves ranging from yellow to deep orange and red.
The name witch hazel derives from the use of forked branches as divining rods for “witching” wells. People have used it medicinally for ages. Its astringent properties are great for shrinking varicose veins and hemorrhoids. It reduces swollen joints and stops bleeding. It is an age-old cure for acne or any skin irritation or cut. The witch hazel solution you buy at the store is a distillation intended for external use only. Try making your own decoction to use in a compress.
Witch hazel thrives in partial shade, producing more flowers when grown in full sun. Since it blooms in the winter, plant it where you can see it from indoors. Place near front of perennial bed so you can easily smell the flowers without getting your shoes muddy. It needs fertile, well-drained soil and cannot toleration wet feet. Provide summer water for the first three years, until plants are established.
Learn more about Hamamelis. Check out www.witchhazelnursery.com. This wholesale nursery in England has a huge collection. Their photo gallery is worth a visit.
Hamamelis Mollis Pallida in bloom in March
Got piles? Swollen joints? Acne? A simple decoction can be made from witch hazel twigs and bark. Grind up plant material, cover with water. Bring to a boil then simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and use as skin wash or in a cloth compress.
Witch hazel thrives in shade and provides winter fragrance and color