Witch hazel , Hamamelis virginiana, 250g
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Scientific Name: Hamamelis virginiana
Part used: leafs
In a word: Keeps Your Bottom in Top Shape
Yet another revolting condition, hemorrhoids are among the worst of common gastrointestinal problems for several reasons. First, they make doing all the small things in life, like sitting down to eat dinner, really difficult. Adding bile to an already bitter circumstance, hemorrhoids are one of those taboo illnesses that no one will ever admit to having. If you have hemorrhoids, you tend to think that you are the only one who does, and so you suffer in solitude. If you have the flu, at least you can complain about it!
Take it from me, lots, and I mean lots, of people have hemorrhoids. Why else would drug companies buy advertising space to promote their hemorrhoid preparations on national TV? Those TV commercials are expensive, but there is big money to be made from most forms of human misery, and the throbbing backside is no exception. In fact, hemorrhoids are one of the most common forms of digestive tract backfire (no pun intended) in the industrialized world. It seems that the combination of our poor diet, our lack of exercise, and our stress-filled lifestyles makes us sitting targets for this particular brand of nightmare. The good news is that hemorrhoids are readily treated with herbal medicine.
Though a lot of people have hemorrhoids, not many understand them. I think at this juncture that it would be helpful to take a crash course in what the little devils are, as understanding is always the key. The first part of the nasty word, heme, gives us a clue as to what sort of problem we are dealing with. Hemerefers to blood, as in hemophilia. Whereas hemophilia is a disorder of the blood cells, hemorrhoids are a disorder of the vessels that carry the blood. Here’s a medical definition: "A vascular tumor made up of infected varices of the veins of the hemorrhoidal plexus." Do you feel enlightened? If that wasn’t enough for you, Lyman Watkins, a physician at the turn of the century, had this to say: Hemorrhoids are round and painful tumors which appear in the region of the anus. They are called external or internal according to their situation, external piles being located without and internal piles within the sphincter ani. An external hemorrhoid consists of an extravasation of blood from a ruptured vein, which forms a hard mass in the surrounding cellular tissues. Internal hemorrhoids are caused by a dilation of the hemorrhoidal arteries and veins which become varicose and form tumors. They can be caused by a poor diet, constipation, diarrhea, consistent activity, straining.
More simply put, a hemorrhoid is a blood vessel that has ballooned up and out of shape. Rather than operating as a pipe for blood to run through, the blood vessel becomes a pool. As blood fills this pool, the vessel hardens into a little ball. These little balls are down you-know-where, and unfortunately that region is loaded with nerve endings. The swollen blood vessels press on nerve endings which send all kinds of messages to the brain, resulting in unpleasant sensations. Every hemorrhoid victim describes these sensations differently, none in glowing terms.
Tannins produced in the witch hazel tree act on human tissue by causing it to shrink, which is just the ticket when you have hemorrhoids.
As our medical description mentions, you can have hemorrhoids on the outside of the anus or inside. I think it is important to mention how you can tell if you have a hemorrhoid as most people are too embarrassed to ask someone in the know until their problem has become unbearable. If the hemorrhoid is external, you will be able to see it with the aid of a mirror. If it is internal, you will be able to feel it. "Pressure" is the word most used to describe what an internal hemorrhoid feels like; "itchy" would work as well. If you feel as if you need to make a bowel movement, and you know you don’t, you probably have a hemorrhoid.
What causes the blood vessels to lose their shape in the first place? Strain usually. Weight lifters and women who have given birth are two examples of people who may have pushed a little to hard down there, with the result being that their blood vessels literally get bent out of shape. Those who suffer from chronic constipation are also hemorrhoid candidates; they strain on the stool a little too hard for a little too long, and before they know it, they have two problems instead of one. Constipation is bad enough, but when you add hemorrhoids to the equation, we are talking about a bad dream.
Like all of our other digestive problems, hemorrhoids are also linked to stress. In fact, stress scientists believe beyond any shadow of a doubt that hemorrhoids are a stress-related illness. The theory is that when people are stressed out, they clench their muscles, including those in the anal area. This constant clutching of the anus results in strain, and you know what the end of that story is. Not that I would know personally, mind you. I have a friend who has them, and he told me all about it.
The star in this corner of the medicine cabinet is a plant that you may have already heard about – witch hazel. A distilled version is sold in just about every drugstore in the world to treat a condition that no one has. Witch hazel’s global use is a relatively new phenomenon. Before the colonization of North America, only the indigenous Americans knew about the tree. The white colonials learned of its bum-healing powers and quickly shared its qualities with the rest of Europe, where it gained instant popularity.
The plant itself is rather peculiar. The tree breaks into bloom in the dead of winter, producing threadlike strings of bright yellow petals that simply hang off the bark at irregular intervals. If that isn’t strange enough, the seeds don’t just drop off like regular seeds. They come out of their dry little wrappers with a loud pop. A favorite trick of colonial children was to bring a witch hazel branch into the house and wait for the seeds to explode.
Peculiar plants are often associated with magic and practitioners of magic, and this is the case with witch hazel. The witch part of the name comes from merry old England. The plant looks somewhat similar to the hazel tree native to that country, a tree used by local witches in divining and making spells. Apparently, when English colonists arrived in the New World and saw the healing plant, one of them screamed, "Hey, isn’t that the hazel the witches back home use?" The name stuck, and we still use it today.
Apart from the exploding seeds, the small tree or large shrub tends to have several spindly trunks all shooting from the same source. It is really an attractive plant; the bark is a lovely silver-gray, and the leaves are deep green. It rarely gets much taller than 20 feet, usually averaging around 12. Witch hazel is fairly common in the United States, and with a field guide, it can be readily identified and put to good use for the unspeakable condition.
The Native Americans were all too familiar with this woodland tree, which can be found growing from New Brunswick to Florida, and they were in the habit of using it to reduce inflammations of all sorts, especially with wounds. The life of the Native Americans was an extremely physical one, and whether the injury came from a battle wound or from a slide down a mountaintop, the Native Americans found that a poultice of witch hazel would ease the pain and speed the healing process. Cadwallader Colden wrote in 1744: I shall tell you what I learnt of the use of the Hamamelis from a Minister of the Church of England who officiates among the Mohawk Indians. He saw an almost total blindness occasioned by a blow cured by receiving the Warm stream of a decoction of the bark of this shrub through a funnel upon the place. This was done by direction of a Mohawk Indian after other means had for a considerable time prov’d ineffectual. I have since experienced the benefit of it used in the same manner in an inflammation of the eye from a blow.
It was through such interactions between the colonials and the Native Americans that witch hazel went from the backwoods of America to the pharmacies of the world. In 1785, a botanic adventurer named Carver had this to say about witch hazel: "The Indians considered this tree as a valuable article in their materia medica. They applied the bark, which is sedative and discutient, to painful tumors and external inflammations."
It’s not entirely clear when witch hazel was first used for bothersome backsides, as the person who made the discovery of its effectiveness in treating this part of the anatomy probably didn’t shout his find from the town square. Let’s just call him an unsung hero. To my knowledge, there is no record of Native Americans’ using witch hazel to treat hemorrhoids, although they did use it to heal just about every other tissue damaged by vigorous activity. In a way, a hemorrhoid is just another damaged tissue, and it certainly responds like all the other wounds Native Americans used witch hazel to heal.
By the 1800s, witch hazel had been fully accepted by the doctors of the day as the plant to end inflammation wherever it occurred. They found it effective for a wide range of complaints. My favorite doctor from the past century, Horton Howard, M.D., said this of the plant in 1879: The bark and leaves are slightly bitter, and very astringent. The leaves are a most valuable article of medicine, as an astringent tonic and styptic. They may be employed in tea for bowel complaints, bleeding at the stomach, lungs, and all other internal hemorrhages: and in snuff for bleeding at the nose: and no doubt might be advantageously applied to wounds to stop the effusions of blood. As a styptic to check internal bleeding, the witch hazel, perhaps, is amongst the best articles known. The Indians, it is said, consider the witch hazel a valuable article of medicine, applying the bark in poultice or wash to painful tumors, and external inflammations. A poultice of the bark is said to be efficacious in removing painful inflammations of the eyes.
Eclectic physician Finley Ellingwood writing at the turn of the century called for witch hazel in the following conditions: Soreness of muscles, muscular aching, a bruised sensation, soreness from violent muscular exertion, soreness from bruises and strains, soreness and muscular aching from cold and exposure, relaxed mucous membranes, dark blue membranes from venous stasis, veins dilated, relaxed, enlarged, and full-varicoses.
Dr. Ellingwood also noted that when it came to hemorrhoids, or any other damaged tissue, witch hazel was the plant of choice. By 1900, everyone agreed.
In the 1950s, a medical writer called witch hazel "a powerful astringent when used as distilled water of the leaf or an extract of the bark for the care of the skin and against varicose veins, hemorrhoids, phlebitis, varicose ulcers and also as a hemostatic." Witch hazel’s chemical activity is due at least in part to its tannin content, specifically, to a tannin called hamelotannin, which is said to be constructed out of a combination of gallic acid, hamelose, quercetin, and choline.
There are as many types of tannins as there are days in the year. A number of plants contain tannins, but why they do remains a mystery. Tannins, like many medicinal chemicals found in plants, are said to be secondary metabolites of plant life. More simply put, tannins are waste products that result from the plant’s life processes. English botanist Lucy Cotes disagrees with this theory. She feels that chemicals like tannins are more likely produced by the plant for survival, although we still don’t understand how the plant uses them. In any case, the tannins produced in this tree act on human tissue by causing it to shrink, which is just the ticket when you have hemorrhoids.
H. Zeylstra, a world-renowned herbalist, insists that Hamamelis has the ability to shrink abnormal tissue while leaving normal tissue unchanged. For this reason, he recommends witch hazel for all forms of abnormal tissue growth, be it warts, nasal polyps, or the condition so close to our hearts, hemorrhoids. The continued application of witch hazel to the affected bits will result in the shrinkage of the abnormal tissue. Mr. Zeylstra insists that with witch hazel in the medicine cabinet, there is no reason for anyone to ever reach the point of needing backside surgery. That’s music to the ears of hemorrhoid sufferers.
As to using witch hazel for your own secret condition, the object is to bring the hemorrhoid into contact with the plant. Not to worry, though. You don’t have to take your behind out to the woods and sit on a tree; the part we use medicinally is either the leaf or the bark. There are two different strategies for the fateful meeting. For internal hemorrhoids, you need to make suppositories and insert them into the operative aperture. For external hemorrhoids, you can either sit in a bowl filled with a decoction of witch hazel or you can apply a cream directly on the site.
Chronic constipation sufferers need to take care of that particular problem if they want to get rid of their hemorrhoids, the last thing you want to do is add any strain to an already strained area. Most herbalists recommend that people with hemorrhoids take a fiber supplement to make certain that their stools are soft and easy to move. The best fiber supplements are made of the seed of the Plantago psyllium. The psyllium seed, as the pharmacist knows it, swells when added with water, and when nicely placed in the gut it becomes a viscous mass. The resulting slime is indigestible, and as it passes through the intestines and out of the body, it brings lots of other things with it, hence, an effortless bowel movement.
If you like to work out at the gym, skip any weight lifting that requires straining when your hemorrhoids are active. Chances are that if you have a case of the piles, you won’t feel like weight lifting anyway, but you need to remember that you want to put as little pressure as possible on that part of the body.
For external hemorrhoids:
Ointment: Mix one teaspoon tincture with one teaspoon cocoa butter. Apply at least four times per day.
For internal hemorrhoids:
Suppository: Mix one teaspoon tincture with one teaspoon cocoa butter. Form mixture into a suppository shape and place it in the freezer. When the suppository is solid, insert it in the anus. Do this three times per day.
PACKAGE WITH 250g leafs
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