Ingredient Spotlight: Witch Hazel

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Witch Hazel, ingredient spotlight


What is Witch Hazel?

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginia) is a flowering shrub found in North America that has been in use for centuries, originally by Native Americans to cure a host of ills. Well-known for its uses in skincare, you may be surprised to find that witch hazel is a star ingredient for your hair as well.  

Bright clusters of yellow crooked fingered flowers burst off branches of Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) emitting a golden citrus scent into the woods throughout the Eastern part of the United States in October and November. At a time in the season where we have said goodbye to flowers, these magical beauties are a welcome sight in the forest as they have been for centuries. Native Americans revered Witch Hazel (a shrub or small tree but mighty in her power) for her medicinal properties and would also use her branches as divining rods to find sources of water. The leaves and bark of the tree are distilled into an extract that is naturally cooling and astringent and can be used topically to treat numerous ailments. It is an important part of a natural first-aid kit for soothing cuts and burns and helping stop bleeding. This skin soother is used to help heal acne, eczema, psoriasis, inflammation, wounds, dandruff, poison ivy, bug bites, diaper rash, hemorrhoids, postpartum perineal swelling and pain, and minor bleeding.  It is also a natural wonder for haircare helping with scalp irritation, reducing greasiness, preventing hair loss and adding shine to hair.  Witch Hazel is a common ingredient in toners as it helps clarify skin and tighten pores, without stripping skin of moisture. Witch hazel is truly a botanical wonder. 

“One of the few products that's both FDA-approved and endorsed by real witches” 

-The Mysterious Past and Present of Witch Hazel,


Why do we use Witch Hazel in haircare at Captain Blankenship? 

First things first, hair care is scalp care, and the scalp is….SKIN! So it follows that witch hazel’s skincare properties will also apply to your scalp. 

Soothes Irritation: Witch hazel is beneficial for your scalp because it soothes irritated and itchy skin, and may also reduce over production of oil. 
Reduces Hair Loss: There is evidence that witch hazel’s calming properties can aid hair regrowth by reducing breakage due to inflammation. 
Increases Shine: Because of its astringent effect, witch hazel gently washes away oil and leaves hair shiny. 

⁠Witch hazel also helps detangle and add shine to hair, which is why we included it in our new Sea Shine Conditioner.⁠

Sea Shine Conditioner, witch hazel as a detangling agent.

November is not a time for flowers, the days short and cold…So when the sun breaks through for that rare yellow day, maybe the last before the snow falls, I have to go. Because the woods are quiet this time of year without leaves or birds, the buzz of a bee seems inordinately loud. Intrigued, I follow her path – what could bring her out in November? She makes directly for bare branches, which, when I look more closely, are strewn with yellow flowers – Witch Hazel.

-Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Ethical Sourcing 

At Captain Blankenship, we personally source ingredients from companies we trust. Our witch hazel is harvested by American Distilling, (mentioned in the Atlantic article quoted above), a company that dates back to the mid 1800’s. 

From the American Distilling website: 

“For over 100 years, American Distilling has harvested wild witch hazel crop from the woods of New England. The Witch Hazel plant is found growing in its highest density throughout the wilderness of greater New England, home of American Distilling. All of American Distilling’s harvests are wild crop certified. Harvesters take great care in assuring that harvest areas are carefully selected, managed, documented and approved according to National Organic Program (NOP) regulations prior to use.”

American Distilling’s Responsible Forest Techniques

All witch hazel crop sites are harvested in accordance with State Forestry Regulations, ensuring the protection of the environment and the regeneration of the Witch Hazel plant. American Distilling monitors compliance with these regulations so that harvests promote and sustain the growth and successful proliferation of the species while contributing to the overall health of the forest.

Sustainable Harvest Techniques

Witch Hazel harvests begin in late autumn after the leaves have fallen and continue throughout the winter and spring while the plants are dormant. During this time the ground is mostly frozen, allowing approved foresters access to the crop with minimal potential for adverse environmental impact. The Witch Hazel plants are then harvested and delivered to American Distilling’s facility for processing.

Upon arrival, the raw witch hazel pulp is screened, cleaned and transfered to storage silos where it is further conditioned prior to distillation. This conditioning ensures maximum and uniform extraction during the distillation process. 

American Distilling takes great pride in the fact that there is no waste from the production of our products. The process utilizes all the plant materials harvested to produce various Witch Hazel products. Any leftover plant material is recycled into natural, biodegradable landscaping mulch.

Witch Hazel in the woods of the Hudson Valley

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