Plant for nutritious nuts for critters and you, for riparian coppicing, and for the old skill of hedge-laying!
Hardy from Zones 4-9. 15-18 feet tall, 10-12 feet wide. Plant a few buddies to make sure they live up to their fertile mythology.
Good ole Hazel. It’s a member of the Birch family native all over the Eastern United States, and its Corylus cousins spread across Europe and western Asia, from Britain to Greece and Turkey, where they’re grown extensively. The species readily hybridize so distinguishing can sometimes be challenging. Studies of pollen suggest that Hazel spread over large parts of Europe nearly 9,000 years ago. Archaeologists found thousands of 8,000-year old burned hazelnut shells in a shallow midden (or dump) pit on a Scottish island.
Nutella didn’t discover the flavorful nutrition. Hazelnut embodied fertility in old cultures: English sweethearts gained good luck under the bows and Roman weddings were scented with Hazel torches to summon fecundity. Celtic teachings treated Hazel as a giver of wisdom. In fact, one of the greatest Gaelic heroes, Finn McCool, got his legendary start by accidentally eating Hazel. Nine shrubs grew around a sacred pond feeding salmon with their mast. A Druid had a strong itch to become omniscient, so he caught the hallowed fish for his young student Finn to cook, making sure not to eat any himself. But Finn got a blister from the heat and sucked on it to cool it down, sucking in some of the fish juices at the same time. And with that the Hazel wisdom that had passed to the salmon passed to Finn, who went on to fame and glory.
We fill Autumn buckets and baskets with the mast that also feeds squirrels, deer, turkey, woodpecker, and many others. American Hazel produces smaller nuts, sometimes called cobnuts, than European cultivars, but it produces a lot after a few years of growth and sweetens soups no matter the size. They’re great raw, but roasted nuts are even better in breads and cakes. Nuts are high in Vitamin E and fats, calcium and protein, and even olives don’t have as much oleic acid. The rich oil has also been used in paints, cosmetics, and wood polishes. Nuts grow in stiff enveloping leaves called bracts that look like little full beards, which might be the origin of the common name Filbert, though the more likely origin is St. Philbert, whose feast falls near the traditional hazel harvest. The scientific name descends from the Latin word for helmet or hood.
Hazel likes the company of woodlands and rich well-drained loams near riparian areas. We’ve seen Hazel grow quickly and sucker easily. We used these suckers to establish our long-desired Hazel coppice, a traditional English woodland tended by the art of coppicing: sustainably cutting a tree or shrub to the ground to encourage new shoots, which are cut on rotation for firewood and craftwood. Woodworkers turned the firm flexible branches into baskets, portable fencing, waddle-and-daub buildings, pea and bean poles, artist charcoal, hedge-laying, and dowsing rods for water diviners. We have high long-term hopes for our Hazel coppice.
Our Hazelnuts come from seed we’ve collected from resilient abundant shrubs on friendly farms and a university grove.