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Posts Tagged ‘witch hazel’

My husband’s spring visit to the Arnold Arboretum and a guided tour by Andrew Gapinski, manager of horticulture, got us looking up information on witch hazel.

Steve Kemper at Yankee Magazine had this to say: “Witch hazel grows from southern Canada to Florida and from Minnesota to Texas, but it flourishes most densely in the eastern half of Connecticut. Not quite a tree but more than a shrub, witch hazel has speckled gray bark, a slim trunk typically just a few inches in diameter, and a bushy top that ends well shy of 20 feet. For three seasons of the year, it’s inconspicuous in the understory.

“But after all the leaves have fallen and the last aster has succumbed to frost, witch hazel displays its exuberant eccentricity, bursting into festive yellow blossoms that Thoreau compared to ‘furies’ hair, or small ribbon streamers.’ At the same time, the previous year’s blossoms have ripened into hard fruits, which now explode, propelling the small seeds up to 30 feet. …

“The Native Americans called this strange plant ‘winterbloom’ and ascribed special powers to it. They used it as a cure-all, steeping the bark and branches to make a tea … which they put on cuts, bruises, insect bites, pinkeye, hemorrhoids, and sore muscles — maladies for which witch hazel is still used. “

At the Boston Globe, David Filipov adds, “Native Americans used witch hazel as a cure-all. So did the early European settlers. … Because of that, Dickinson Brands Inc., the world’s largest producer of witch hazel, has quietly prospered here, in what is arguably the witch hazel capital of the world.

“Owners and employees say they have avoided the layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts that have benighted so many companies. And in this season of shrinking sales and mounting losses, the privately owned company says it has experienced double-digit growth. …

“Sometimes the product’s rich history as an all-round remedy intrudes upon the company’s attempt to place the Witch Hazel brand as a gentle skin-care product for the modern woman.

“ ‘Back in the day, they used to use it a lot on the animals’ who had cuts and scrapes,’’ [an employer] recalled. ‘As a matter of fact, most of the race horses of today use it. After they work out, they wipe the horses with it. Yep, cools the horses down.’ ”

Read all about this built-to-last Connecticut industry at Yankee Magazine and the Boston Globe.

(Witch Hazel was a character in the Little Lulu comics of my childhood. Different witch.)

Image: Franz Eugen Köhler

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