Astringent herbs take action in the body by contracting soft tissues to stop or reduce blood, mucus, or other discharges. The specific effect depends on the particular herb used, how the herb is administered and how strong its astringent effect is.
Mostly all astringent herbs coagulate albumin or blood proteins, tone muscles, contract veins and gland ducts, slow down peristalsis or contractions in organs, and reduce excess salivation. Stronger astringent herbs stop diarrhea and hemorrhaging. The herbs with this latter effect are called styptics. Milder astringent herbs reduce excessive perspiration and enlarged pores by toning and contracting the skin and glands.
In other words, astringent herbs help us tighten and tone our body. Two effective astringent herbs are witch hazel Hamamelis virginiana, and cranesbill Geranium maculatum. I will tell you more about them here, and let you know ways in which you can use them.
What Makes These Astringent Herbs Effective?
The constituents that are responsible for astringent actions are tannin, tannic acid, and gallic acid. They normally work by contracting or tightening tissues.
Tannins should be used with caution because they may have damaging effects if not consumed appropriately and/or consumed in excess. In fact, any herbs containing tannin should only be taken in the recommended, stated, or prescribed doses.
Witch hazel has hamamelitannin, tannin, and gallic acid, all of which produce its astringent and styptic actions. It is such a valuable astringent herb that it can even be used to stop miscarriages. Among its many uses, it is also known to reduce internal secretions, improve circulation, treat diarrhea and mucous colitis, and has been used as a first aid remedy. However, when used inappropriately or in excess, it can cause liver damage and stomach irritation.
Cranesbill, which is known as Geranium masculatum, Geranium dissectum, and Geranium mole, has tannic and gallic acids, which result in its astringent and tonic effects. It has many medicinal uses, which include treating boils, wounds, sores, and diarrhea, and balancing over-active sebaceous glands. It normally does not irritate or cause nausea. But, if taken in excess, the tannins can cause liver and kidney damage (Petersen, 2014).
Witch hazel is one of the most widely used herbs, particularly in the United States. It is used for cuts, bites, bleeding, including nosebleeds, bruises, burns, cuts, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, hemorrhage, inflammation, ulcers, varicose veins, and wounds (Castleman, 2001; Petersen, 2014).
In a study comparing the use of a skin cream with aloe vera gel with a skin cream with witch hazel on people suffering from sunburn, the cream with witch hazel was found to reduce redness more effectively. Another study found witch hazel cream to be more effective than a cream containing chamomile in treating sunburn (Castleman, 2001).
Cranesbill has antiviral properties and can be used to treat certain infectious diseases. It is used as an astringent, emmenagogue, styptic, and tonic, and it is able to do so without causing irritation and nausea. In addition, it is a useful bowel tonic, diarrhea, dysentery, and gastric ulcer, especially when combined with other herbs, such as comfrey and goldenseal (Petersen, 2014).
Several North American native populations have used cranesbill to treat sores or lesions of the mouth (Trotter & Logan, 1986). It can clot blood and is effective for both internal and external wounds. It also useful in treating sore nipples due to breastfeeding (Petersen, 2014).
Cranesbill is an antiviral and may be used to treat rotavirus. It can treat diarrhea and dysentery, and when used in combination with comfrey root, Symphytum officinale,it can help treat bowel inflammation and diarrhea, given that comfrey root is an effective demulcent or soothing herb (Petersen, 2014). It is important to note that any use herbs to treat cholera, rotavirus, or other diseases causing diarrhea, treatment should be supplemented by proper hydration, as it is severe dehydration that has severe consequences on the body and can lead to death.
Applications of Witch Hazel and Cranesbill
Both witch hazel and cranesbill can be applied topically or be consumed internally. The dried herb can be wrapped in a cloth, and applied externally to swellings, cuts, and bruises. Lotions, ointments, and salves containing the herb are also effective.
Leaves from witch hazel or cranesbill can also be used to prepare an infusion, and the roots can be used to prepare a decoction. I’ve written about how to make these herbal preparations here.
These herbs are also beneficial in the form of tinctures, fluid extracts, and powder.
Both herbs are generally considered safe to use, but I always advise to consult a healthcare professional before using or consuming any herb.
Castleman, M. (2001). The New Healing Herbs- The Ultimate Guide to Nature’s Best Medicines. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.
Petersen, D. (2014). Astringent and demulcent herbs. In Herb 502 Advanced Herbal Materia Medica I. Portland, OR: American College of Healthcare Sciences.
Trotter, R.T. & Logan, M. H. (1986). Plants in Indigenous Medicine & Diet: Biobehavioral Approaches.Etkin, N. L. (Ed.). Bedford Hills, NY: Redgrave Publishing Company.