This section is from the book "Materia Medica And Therapeutics - Vegetable Kingdom", by Charles D. F. Phillips. Also available from Amazon: Materia Medica And Therapeutics: Vegetable Kingdom.
Active Ingredients. - The chemistry of this plant has not been fully studied. The older analyses discovered a very large proportion of tannin. It contains in addition a volatile principle, the nature of which has not been accurately determined. The so-called "hamamelin " of the eclectics is an uncertain preparation of indefinite composition.
Therapeutic Action. - Rafinesque1 speaks of Hamamelis as being in use among the Indians for ulcers, tumors, sores, etc., but for twenty years after, the name hardly, if at all, occurs in medical literature. The drug was first brought fairly into notice by Dr. Jas. Fountain, of Peek-skill, in 1848,2 and his observations were confirmed a year later by Dr. N. S. Davis.3 By these writers it was recommended in haemoptysis and haemorrhoids. It subsequently appeared in homoeopathic literature in an article by Preston,4 as a remedy in epistaxis, uterine haemorrhage, varicosis and phlegmasia dolens. Since then, among homoeopaths, it has enjoyed a very high repute, but has been but little used by the mass of the profession. The cause of its neglect by the profession is easily accounted for when we consider that at the time of its introduction by Dr. Fountain, it could not be obtained on prescription at the drug-stores, and consequently the city physician must seek it himself, or take some special pains to procure it, which was altogether out of the question. The country physician, finding nothing said in its favor by his metropolitan brother, treated it with equal neglect, although the plant was growing at his very door.5 If it was employed at all it was probably carefully dried (and a part of its virtues dissipated in the process) according to the spirit of the U. S. Pharm., and on trial was not found to possess all the valuable qualities attributed to it. The only other preparations attainable for many years were the homoeopathic tincture and certain proprietary "extracts," the use of which, for obvious reasons, was not countenanced by the profession. Later, the wholesale druggists began to put on their lists fluid-extracts made from the dried plant, which, so far as we have been able to learn, have not attracted (nor merited, we suspect) much confidence. The history of hamamelis is that of many other indigenous remedies. The only modern regular text-book that contains a favorable notice of hamamelis is that of Ringer, who has found it useful in haematuria, haemorrhoids, and varicocele.
The writer has employed it with satisfaction in haemorrhoids, varicose veins, varicose ulcers, and as an anti-pruritic (locally applied) in cases of eczema.
1 Medical Flora, Phila., 1828.
2 New York Journal of Medicine, p. 208. 3 Trans. Am. Med. Ass'n, Vol. i., 1849.
4 Phil. Jour, of Horn.. Jan., 1853.
5 It is exceedingly abundant in New York and New England, and considerable capital is invested in the manufacture of preparations intended for direct sale to the laity.
It will be seen from the above that the sphere of action of hamamelis is mainly confined to the vascular system, and to the venous rather than the arterial, in fact its influence on the former is as decided as that of aconite on the latter. There is no evidence, however, to show that it in any way influences vessels of the viscera, but, so far as is yet known, limits its effects to vessels distributed to the skin and mucous membranes. It covers a portion only of the ground occupied by Ergot in this respect, but within its own proper field it does not yield to this latter in efficacy. The haemostatic and vessel-shrinking power of hamamelis has been attributed to the large amount of tannin that it contains. This is probably not the case, for the double reason that tannin, by itself, is not capable of filling the place of hamamelis, and, second, because the so-called "extracts" (more properly distilled waters) contain no tannin, and yet are by no means inert.
Preparations And Dose. - Non-officinal. In the market are found fluid extracts from the dry plant, which we do not recommend; second, a variety of proprietary "extracts " made by distillation from the fresh plant. These latter contain the volatile principles only, and do not represent the entire properties of the drug; third, the homoeopathic tincture, made by macerating one part of fresh hamamelis in two parts of alcohol. This contains both the fixed and volatile principles. The only objection to it is its cost, which is much greater than that of the fluid extracts, though these latter are nominally twice as strong. The parts used are the leaves and young twigs gathered late in the fall. The dose of the fresh tincture is from two to ten minims, given in chronic complaints once or twice a day, but in acute cases (haemorrhage, etc.) repeated with greater frequency. In haemorrhoids it is well to employ it also in enema or suppository, and in varicose veins and ulcers, as a lotion or an ointment. For local use the tincture should be diluted with five to ten volumes of water.)