I first fell in love with witch hazel when I was in design school. Constantly walking the paths of Kew Gardens trying to take images of useful garden plants, Witch Hazel was prominently featured in nearly all my classmates plant portfolios as it was reliably in bloom when nothing else was (i.e. very late fall and winter — when we were in school).
The north American native is predominantly yellow flowered, but there are many variety that feature all shades of yellows, oranges and reds, all of which give the garden spectacular winter interest. The shaggy blooms put on around November and stay through to late spring …you can see then through the bright yellow fall foliage, but as soon as that falls away….you are left with sculptural twigs and funky flowers.
Witch hazel has many historical association with witches and magic. It has been thought to protect one from witches. The medieval English word wych, meaning “flexible,” may have been correlated and applied to the characteristically flexible witch hazel branches.
Modern witches consider witch hazel a magical herb and utilize it in spells to guard against evil influences and to heal broken hearts. Dowsers or water witches use the forked branches of witch hazel to find subterranean water, lost items, or hidden treasures beneath the earth.
The Mohegans made balms out of the bark of witch hazel and used the leaves to make tea. The tea and balm were applied to cuts and wounds, and the tea was ingested to help treat menstrual problems, colds, and other ailments. Often still used today, this pretty woodland garden shrub has good kitchen and medicinal uses.
image by jumu556