Witch Hazel

Some months ago I encountered a new take on an old theme. I’ve know about witch hazel practically since I could walk and talk. Today is an opportune time to write about this old and dependable heal-all as I seem to be using it daily to soothe various cat punctures.

I remember as a little girl seeing the Dickinson summer “cottage,” one of the many twenty-plus room structures in the Borough of Fenwick. Otherwise known as Hartford on the Rocks, this little enclave at the confluence of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound served as the summer escape for the insurance company executives and other wealthy folks. N.B.: That structure between the Sound and the golf water hazard was the Hepburn “cottage.”

The Dickinson family didn’t travel as far to their cottage as the other Fenwick denizens. They lived one town north in Essex. At some point I also saw their year-round house, actually a mansion, near the river. Our family knew their maid well. She lived in a house around the corner from us. E.E. Dickinson Company manufactured the product in Centerbrook, a less affluent section of Essex. Some of the distinctive yellow buildings remain, but they are now part of the Valley Railroad. No longer owned by the Dickinson family, the company has morphed into a “brand” (what hasn’t?) and even includes the word in its name. It has also migrated across the river, though I’m not sure about the benefits of manufacture in East Hampton vs. Essex. The product seems to have remained the same.

We stocked great quantities of witch hazel in James’ Pharmacy, and I always loved the smell. But it wasn’t until recently that I learned salient details.

While most of the uses are external including as a pre-shampoo rinse (“In Style: The Hair”), herbs 2000 says that tea brewed from the leaves is supposed to overcome digestive problems. Gargling is said to soothe sore throats. Favorite use so far, in the comment from Jerry Lloyd. He uses it to dislodge rusted bolts!


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