Witch Hazel- Skin Magic September 21 2018, 0 Comments
This local drugstore staple is famous for being a wonderful skin treatment for humans, but did you know this great, affordable treatment has many uses around the barn? Called Wtich Hazel, not due to its ghoulish roots, but rather “witch” from the Old English word wice, meaning flexible, this lovely decorative shrub was commonly used by Native Americans historically for skin irritations and tumors.
Plant parts and uses
The American Witch Hazel shrub is native to eastern North America, often found near water bodies. The medicinal benefits of the plant are found in the bark and twigs, which are often boiled in water to make a decoction, or steam distilled. Traditionally used steam distilled as a treatment for skin irritations, inflammation, and tumors, the first commercial sales of the Witch Hazel distillations was recorded in Connecticut, in the mid-1800s. Today, it is used as an astringent, household cleaner, skin care agent, and applied to clean and heal minor cuts and abrasions, thanks to its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Most common uses for horses
Witch Hazel is a popular base ingredient for liniments, given it’s soothing and cooling effects on the skin. You can make your own liniment by mixing witch hazel with water and spraying your horse after an intense workout.
Herbsmith's Sound Horse Liniment is in a Witch Hazel base. This is a great, gentle every day liniment for horses, infused with Chinese herbs and menthol.
You can also dab some witch hazel onto a cotton ball to clean minor wounds and skin irritations, including itchy spots created by insect bites and midges.
Not So Sweet Itch Gel Forumla is an example of such a product; witch hazel based, this is an effective gel you can put on your horse's itchy spots to relieve irritation.
Lastly, Witch Hazel is also an effective all-natural stain remover; spray some onto your horse’s white socks to clean them up and make them beam.
Equispa took the same approach with their Grapefruit Coat Refresh, which combines witch hazel and refreshing citrus to serve as a waterless shampoo and stain remover.
However, please do not administer the product internally; most store bought versions include an alcohol in the formula that is not safe to ingest. Also, be sure to test a small area of your horse’s skin before application; given its astringent properties, it can dry out a horse’s skin if sensitive.
Witch Hazel is a very low maintenance, hardy plant once well-established. Needing cool weather, and partial shade, this plant typically grows in hardiness zones 3-8 in rich soils and can grow up to 30’ feet tall. This shrub has beautiful red or white flowers that bloom in the fall and requires a lot of moisture in the soils, so be sure to mulch and water regularly. The best time to harvest the bark is in the spring or fall. Cut the small branches near the base of the larger branch, and when stripping the bark make sure to also catch the moist underlay beneath the bark to reap maximum benefits. You can either use it right away or dry it for later use.
This is a re-print from the Herb Blurb Column I am writing in Equine Wellness Magazine, one of the largest publications in North America focused on natural and alternative therapies for horses. This is from their Oct/Nov 2018 issue. https://equinewellnessmagazine.com/