Witch Hazels are in prime form right now and are, by far, my favourite winter-flowering shrubs. Just one glimpse of an ‘Arnold’s Promise’ in full bloom on a dull winter’s day gives one a sense of hope, and the lingering sweet fragrance embeds that aspiration into our psyche. So, I thought today we would take a deep dive into this niche plant group.
There are actually only five species of Hamamelis, including
1. H. vernalis (North America),
2. H.ovalis (North America),
3. H.virginiana (North America),
4. H. mollis (China), and
5. H. japonica (Japan).
Another prominent group are known as Hamamelis x intermedia, which are actually H. japonica and H. mollis crosses of garden origin – we will delve into these in detail a little later.
The common name has a rather interesting history, deriving from the old Anglo-Saxon word wych or ‘bendable’, as Y-shaped sticks were often used for dowsing, or locating underground water for wells. Hazel refers to the plant’s leaves resembling Corylus or Hazelnut foliage. Witch Hazel the medicine is usually derived from distilled leaves and bark of Hamamelis virginiana — this astringent is used as a skin topical for inflammation, minor cuts, and insect bites.