With all the fancy pills and potions that fill most of our medicine cabinets these days, we often forget about the remarkable healing powers of certain “old-fashioned” remedies such as witch hazel. It is still a useful and unique medicine that deserves a place in everyone’s home medicine cabinet.

As you probably know, witch hazel is an astringent herb—a plant medicine that makes body tissues contract. Scientists believe that the natural substances known as tannins in astringent plants cause this tightening action. Conditions that can be effectively treated with one of my favorite go-to natural remedies… 

• Hemorrhoids. These swollen, bulging blood vessels in the rectum can be internal or can protrude externally. As any hemorrhoid sufferer knows, they hurt and sometimes bleed. Thankfully, however, witch hazel lessens the throbbing, achy pain of hemorrhoids and reduces their swelling and tendency to bleed. In fact, it works as well as over-the-counter (OTC) hemorrhoid products.

For external hemorrhoids, soak a six-inch by six-inch cloth with witch hazel.  I recommend adding one-half teaspoon of witch hazel tincture (a highly concentrated form that’s available where botanical medicine is sold) to four ounces of OTC witch hazel. This will make the solution stronger and more effective. Apply the cloth directly to the hemorrhoid and leave it there for 10 minutes. Do this three times a day until the swelling and pain subside.

For internal hemorrhoids, use rectal suppositories made from witch hazel (available at many pharmacies and online). I recommend suppositories that contain witch hazel as well as cocoa butter and other soothing herbs, such as calendula and chamomile. Insert one suppository nightly for at least one week until the pain is diminished.

For both types of hemorrhoids, use witch hazel as soon as symptoms (including pain and swelling) occur.

• Anal fissures. These small tears in the anus cause sharp pain and bleed a little with bowel movements. To get relief, soak a cotton ball with liberal amounts of OTC witch hazel and swab the fissure after each bowel movement and at bedtime. Gently blot dry with toilet paper.

• Acne and razor rash. Witch hazel helps heal skin inflammation and mild infections. It’s great for acne—especially “whiteheads.” You also can use witch hazel to treat “barber rash”—or to prevent razor rash, no matter where you shave, by splashing it on your skin immediately after shaving.

• Allergies and sinusitis. To soothe irritated nasal passages due to allergies and to reduce the copious mucus that can accompany sinusitis, add one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of witch hazel to four ounces of saline solution to use in a neti pot. The witch hazel will make OTC saline solution more astringent to help dry mucus. Use this solution for nasal irrigation and rinse whenever you have allergy or sinusitis symptoms.

• Itchy skin and bug bites. Simply splash witch hazel on your skin as often as needed for relief from bug bites (such as bites from flies and mosquitoes). Some people find witch hazel, which evaporates quickly, more comfortable and effective than the sticky residue of calamine lotion.