Witch Hazel: Connecticut is the Source
Many scientists have doubted that witch hazel really works, attributing its effect to the added alcohol. “Oh no, there’s something in it,” says Strong, who often uses it and has studied its make-up. “It’s an astringent.” Chemists searching for its secret have found tannins, flavonoids, volatile oils, and other compounds, but nothing that definitively explains its effectiveness. American Distilling is doing clinical trials on the many ways — owner Ed Jackowitz won’t say which ones — in which people have used witch hazel for decades. “We still don’t know why it works,” he says. Folk wisdom may be proven right. Recent studies have found anti-viral, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties in witch hazel. The anti-oxidants, one researcher concluded, might be effective in anti-aging and anti-wrinkle creams — another instance, Thoreau might say, of witch hazel’s power to turn autumn into spring.
But first you have to cut the brush. On a brisk day in January, the Halls are working a few miles from home in privately owned woods, where they hope to harvest 30 tons. “It’s everywhere,” Ben Hall says, “but it’s scattered.”
He and Troy move quickly from trunk to trunk. Ben flicks away snow at the base with his chainsaw, then cuts while Troy holds. Ben trims the trunks at ground level because stumps could puncture loggers’ tires. “Besides,” he adds, “if you leave six inches, you’re leaving a few cents. That isn’t much, but over 30 tons, it adds up.” He even cuts trunks no thicker than his finger. “Collect enough feathers, you’ve got a pound,” he says. They pull the brush to a sled attached to a skidder, which hauls the load to a clearing. There, Ben operates the claws of a log loader to grab a pile of brush and guide it into a chipper. A stream of chopped witch hazel shoots into a big dump truck.
There will always be plenty of witch hazel in Connecticut, but Strong and Hall sometimes wonder who will cut it. “Most young people don’t want to know anything about witch hazel,” says Strong.
Hall nods: “Nine out of ten who try it don’t do it more than once, because it’s hard work.”
“And the cutters are the key,” says Strong. “If you don’t have brush, you don’t have a product.”
And then what would happen to the skin of America’s women?
Find a recipe for witch hazel extract and read about its uses.