Witch hazel is best known for its topical applications but it does also have some internal ones. When it’s consumed internally, witch hazel is usually made into a tea. Among the benefits to be gained from witch hazel tea are help with respiratory problems such as coughs, sore throats and even asthma. If you can’t find witch hazel stems or bark to make the tea, consider one of the following witch hazel substitutes to get all or some of the benefits.
Your best bet: Slippery elm
Like witch hazel trees, slippery elms are native to North America and have a long history of use for treating various health problems. For example, both witch hazel and slippery elm were once commonly used to treat sore throats and other forms of respiratory tract inflammation.
Slippery elm is different from witch hazel in that it is relatively flavorless, lacking the bitterness and astringency that you get from witch hazel tea. Another difference has to do with consistency. Slippery elm gets its name from the mucilage it contains, which tends to give a thick texture to the tea. It is the mucilage that provides slippery elm’s anti-inflammatory properties.
Witch hazel is usually made into a tea when it is taken internally and you can use slippery elm in the same way. It is often sold in powder form to make it easy to mix with water. Note that if you let it sit for too long, it will take on the consistency of oatmeal.
A decent second choice: Horse chestnut
The horse chestnut is native to the Balkans and parts of Asia, which makes its origin story a little different from that of North American witch hazel; however, it does have some of the same benefits. Horse chestnut tea is sometimes used to treat inflammation and to lessen the severity of coughs and other cold symptoms. Horse chestnut tea is also used as a febrifuge and to alleviate dysentery. It is used topically like witch hazel as well.
As with witch hazel, the leaves and the bark is typically what is used to make the tea. Horse chestnut’s flavor is primarily bitter. The nut should be used only for topical applications.
Horse chestnut also has some of the same drawbacks as witch hazel in that it contains a high concentration of tannins that can make it toxic if used incorrectly.
In a pinch: White willow bark
White willow bark is the source of aspirin and is believed to be the oldest known herbal pain-killer and anti-inflammatory medication. White willow bark was used by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese. Like witch hazel, it was used by Native Americans as well. The bark contains the compound salicin, which is a precursor to aspirin. The body converts salicin to salicylic acid. White willow bark is similar to witch hazel in that both are rich in flavonoids that are believed to provide many of their anti-inflammatory benefits.
White willow bark is used to make a tea similar to witch hazel tea. With both herbs, the decoction can be taken internally or used topically.
Spikenard is sometimes likened to sarsaparilla because it has a similar flavor profile. While the flavor profile is not similar to that of witch hazel, other properties such as its ability to relieve inflammatory conditions are. Spikenard root is a traditional treatment for respiratory ailments like coughs along with gout and rheumatoid arthritis.