My grandmother loved witch hazel. It was one of her cure alls. She had a big bottle of it in her bathroom that she brought out to treat every thing from burns to bites to bruises. As a child of the modern world, I assumed it was up to me to show disdain for these old fashioned remedies. I took my job very seriously.

When I grew older, I did not drop my habit of questioning everything the rest of the world took for granted. College taught me the importance of looking up facts to support or deflect claims. The wonders of the computer age brought this information to my fingertips.

Some of my grandmother’s traditional cures did not stand up to scientific scrutiny. While I hold serious reservations about the safety of popping blisters under a full moon, tales of grandma’s witch hazel cures have rung true.

Witch hazel is an astringent that is sold for cheap in drug stores. Normally, it is used to clean faces or areas of the body that gets oily buildup. Witch hazel is a far more powerful medicine than people give it credit for.

As a shoestring herbalist, I have an affinity for cheap fixes. Like I said earlier, witch hazel is cheap–-much cheaper than alcohol. I use it as an menstrum base. Think of it as topical alternative to applying tincture.

Standard tinctures are made with vodka, everclear, or brandy as a menstrum base. This is great if you’re taking your medicine internally. Why waste perfectly good alcohol on a topical application? If it’s an herb that’s only being used on the skin, I just add it to witch hazel astringent. I shake it every few days and when the mixture turns the color I’m looking for, I strain it. Voila! Ready for use.

I have a few herbs I save for witch hazel. Calendula, which is good against staph infections, I add either fresh or dry, depending on the supply. Plantain leaf, which is great for treating poison oak, is plentiful and easy to strain. Rosemary, another astringent that is gentle to the skin, turns witch hazel into a fragrant face rinse.

Any of these herbs could be blended for other uses. Imagine what a little herbal medicine would do to to reduce itching or swelling when added to witch hazel. The number of studies on these herbs is increasing all the time. I’ll be the first to let you know about any full moon cures. Until then, stick with the witch hazel.