Witch Hazel, in botany, the common name for a North American shrub, Hamamelis virginiana, also known in gardens. The clusters of rich yellow flowers begin to expand in the autumn before the leaves fall and continue throughout the winter. The bark and leaves are astringent, the extract, also referred to as Witch Hazel, is used medicinally. The seeds contain a quantity of oil and are edible. The name is derived from the use of the twigs as divining rods, just as hazel twigs were used in England.

Britten and Holland (Dictionary of English Plant Names, p. 247) quotes three British plants under this name:

  1. Wych Elm (Ulmus montana), which, according to Parkinson (Theatr. 1403), was called "Witch hasell", because the leaves are "like unto the leaves of the Hasell nut"
  2. Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), which, according to Gerard, was so called in some places from its likeness to the elm or "wich Hazell tree"
  3. Mountain Ash (''Pyras aucuparia).

Originally from the 1911 encyclopedia.