Witch hazel: Good for whatever ails ya

Witch hazel is billed as a help for everything from acne to swelling and "wounds" from childbirth.

This bucolic scene interrupted a very gray landscape this morning on my walk to the train station. It was chilly, lightly snowing, very hilly and not much fun if you'd rather be sleeping past 6:30 a.m. Note the chic "distressed" look of the fence. Nice touch, don't you think?

But it was the fuzzy yellow flowers that have caught my eye all week on this dreary journey down the hill in the morning and back up in the evening. Before early light or just as darkness falls, there's literally not much that beats witch hazel in March. There are lots of beautiful ones at Chanticleer, but there is much else that's beautiful at Chanticleer in March, too. In the city? In a concrete neighborhood partial to English ivy in the "front yards" of its row houses? It's quite unusual to see this kind of thing.

And did you know we have Peter Collinson, John Bartram's plant-crazy pen pal in England, to thank for the introduction of witch hazel to the U.S.? That man is everywhere.

The medicinal witch hazel is something I've never tried; it was much more common in our parents' and grandparents' generations, but it's around. (Even Burt's Bees, which is a little like Peter Collinson in its ubiquity, has a product.) Good grief, it's billed as a help for everything from acne to swelling and "wounds" from childbirth. I better get some of this stuff ASAP.

Meanwhile, just the sight of the mother plant, to continue with the childbirth theme, is a tonic in its own right.