Although witchhazel has been known and used for centuries, there is some confusion in the names and origins of the words. The witch part of the word comes from the Middle English word wiche itself derived from the Old English wice meaning something that was bendable or pliant. In England, witchhazel was used synonymously with Wych Elm, an entirely different species. It is thought that early colonists in America gave this name to the shrub that they found in America. It is also possible that early divining rods made of hazel twigs added to the ’witchy’ aspect, but that connection could just as easily come from witchhazel’s many medicinal uses, including as an important skin treatment after childbirth. Boil, boil, toil and trouble indeed!
Image of witchhazel courtesy Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen used with permission under a Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.