The Hazel tree (Corylus avellana) was known as the ’Tree of Knowledge’ by the Celts and associated with wisdom and inspiration.
The Common Hazel is a species of hazel native to Europe and western Asia, from the British Isles south to Iberia, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. It can be found to the north in central Scandinavia, and east to the central Ural Mountains, the Caucasus, and northwestern Iran.
The scientific name avellana derives from the town of Avella in Italy where the species was described as "Avellana nux sylvestris" ("wild nut of Avella").
Common hazel is typically a shrub reaching 3-8 m tall, but can reach 15 metres.
The leaves are bright green, rounded, 6-12 cm across and softly hairy on both surfaces.
The flowers are produced very early in spring, before the leaves, and are monoecious (meaning both male and female flowers are on the same tree). It has single-sex wind-pollinated catkins.
Male catkins are pale yellow and 5-12 cm long, while female catkins are very small and largely concealed in the buds with only the bright red 1-3 mm long tips visible.
The fruit is a nut, produced in clusters of one to five together, each nut being held in a short leafy husk which encloses about three quarters of the nut. The nuts falls out of the husks when ripe, typically in late summer.
Hazel is a good tree for under planting in a woodland / densely planted area as it can tolerate shade.
Hazel is often coppiced (cut down to just above ground level) to encourage further growth. The tall, thin branches that are cut can be used to make traditional fence panels and weaved into garden sculptures and furniture.
Primitive archers used the wood of the hazelnut in the making of arrows. The fine grain and tendency to grow with fairly straight shoots makes them suitable shaft material.
Common Hazel is cultivated for its nuts in commercial orchards in Europe, Turkey and Iran. The top producer of hazelnuts is Turkey whose annual hazelnut production of 625,000 tonnes accounts for approximately 75% of worldwide production.
Hazelnuts are rich in protein and unsaturated fat. They also contain significant amounts of thiamine and vitamin B6, as well as smaller amounts of other B vitamins.
Hazelnuts are extensively used in confectionery to make praline and also used in combination with chocolate for chocolate truffles and products such as Nutella. Hazelnut butter is an alternative to peanut butter.
Vodka-based Hazelnut liqueurs, such as Frangelico, are also increasing in popularity, especially in the U.S. and eastern Europe.
Hazelnut is popular as a coffee flavouring, especially in the form of Hazelnut latte.
Mythology and symbolism
Hazelnut trees were known as the ’Tree of Knowledge’ by the Celts and associated with wisdom and inspiration.
Hazelnuts were often presented to those facing a particularly tough challenge.
During weddings it was a tradition for children to present the bride with a bag of Hazelnuts in order to bless her with good fortune.
It was also thought that new skills and knowledge could be gained by eating Hazelnuts.
It’s also a tradition for children to shake a Hazel tree during Halloween and collect the falling nuts.
Hazel trees are reputed to have magical properties. Hazel rods are supposed to protect against evil spirits too.
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