witch hazel

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witch hazel,

common name for some members of the Hamamelidaceae, a family of trees and shrubs found mostly in Asia. The family includes the large genus (Corylopsis) of winter hazels, and the witch hazels (genus Hamamelis), sweet gums (Liquidambar), and witch elders (Fothergilla), the latter three genera represented by species in E North America as well as in Asia. The American witch hazel (H. virginiana) is a fall-blooming shrub or small tree found E of the Rockies. Its ripening fruits discharge their seeds by a characteristic explosive action, often shooting them several feet. The plant seems to have been named for the resemblance of its leaves to those of the hazel, and the witch hazel branch, like that of the hazel, has been used as a divining roddivining rod
or dowser,
stick used in searching for underground water or minerals. This form of divination is still in common use in many parts of the world. The instrument is typically a forked twig.
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. The name "witch hazel" is applied also to an astringent liniment obtained from the leaves and bark of the plant. The sweet gums are characterized by their star-shaped leaves, their unusually brilliant and varied autumn coloring, and their round fruits with hornlike projections. The hard wood is used for cabinetmaking and for various building purposes. The bark, especially that of Asian species, is a source of storax or styrax, a fragrant balsambalsam
, fragrant resin obtained from various trees. The true balsams are semisolid and insoluble in water, but they are soluble in alcohol and partly so in hydrocarbons.
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 used in expectorants and perfumes and sometimes in chewing gum. Witch hazel is classified in the division MagnoliophytaMagnoliophyta
, division of the plant kingdom consisting of those organisms commonly called the flowering plants, or angiosperms. The angiosperms have leaves, stems, and roots, and vascular, or conducting, tissue (xylem and phloem).
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, class Magnoliopsida, order Hamamelidales, family Hamamelidaceae.

witch hazel

[′wich ‚hā·zəl]
(materials)
A water extract from the dried leaves of the witch hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana); a solution of 14% alcohol with 1% witch hazel extract is commonly known as witch hazel; used as a tonic and sedative.

witch hazel

, wych-hazel
1. any of several trees and shrubs of the genus Hamamelis, esp H. virginiana, of North America, having ornamental yellow flowers and medicinal properties: family Hamamelidaceae
2. an astringent medicinal solution containing an extract of the bark and leaves of H. virginiana, applied to treat bruises, inflammation, etc.