The hazel – a good smallholder tree that also produces the hazelnut
Hazel trees are part of the genus Corylus which includes nearly 20 different specimens, and most types also yield delicious nuts that can be eaten raw or cooked (more of that later). The tree’s smooth, reddish-brown wood is also prized for its durability and elasticity.
Hazel is fast growing and easy to shape and therefore has a long history of use in hedging. The leaves stay with the tree much longer than most other trees, sometimes well into December. The tree/shrub also provides habitat to numerous animals and birds, as well as serving as a source of food for animals, butterflies and insects.
Why are hazels a good smallholder tree?
It is a good smallholder tree because it offers so many uses, as well as fitting comfortably on a smallholding. Those not familiar with forest gardening or agroforestry might not know that hazels like willows can also be used as animal fodder.
“In pastures, cows nibble on the leaves which increases the butterfat content in the milk. Sheep will readily eat the leaves, and pigs get excited if given hazel branches because they search for the crunchy nuts to eat.”
Growing hazels is also an opportunity to grow and harvest nuts at home without having to plant trees that will grow huge, and take years before they produce. Hazels grow in fertile, well drained soil. Once established, they can produce heavily and consistently.
Things to make with hazel
- hurdles – read more here on how to make them.
- bean poles
- pea sticks
- hedge stakes
- walking sticks
- fishing rods
- tool handles
- shepherds’ crooks
Growing or propogating hazels
Hazels can be acquired in three ways:
- You can start new plants from hazel nuts. They tend to take some time to germinate (use a file to rub a small notch through the shell of the nut before planting), and do best when planted in pots. When germinated, let them grow to at least 6 – 12 inches before you transplant them in their final position.
- An easier way to propagate is by digging runners from established bushes. Hazels spread by underground runners that develop roots. These runners can be cut away from the main plant, ( in autumn time after leaves have dropped and and the bushes have gone dormant).
- If all else fails there are garden centres or nurseries that sell both native, and hybrid cross hazelnut plants.
Where to plant a hazel tree?
- Hazels need full sunlight in order to thrive.
- Hazel trees prefer soil that is slightly acidic.
Hazel pests and diseases
Occasionally, pests, such as leaf hoppers and caterpillars will attack the hazel tree and damage its leaves and twigs. One other insect that you may not welcome is the Hazelnut Weevil (pictured below) read here for more information.
Hazel trees are durable and typically don’t fall victim to epidemics. However, there are a few diseases that the tree is particularly susceptible to, including:
- Crown Gall – causes the formation of round wart-like galls to form on the tree’s lower branches.
- Twig Blight – attacks the tree’s twigs; though, if left untreated, the blight will cause damage to the Hazel’s leaves and lead to premature leaf drop.
- Powdery Mildew – appears as a white coating on the top of the leaves. In severe cases the leaves will turn yellow and drop before autumn.
What is a hazelnut?
Hazelnuts are produced by hazel trees and generally ripen in late August. The shell of a ripened hazelnut is brown, glossy, and roughly ovoid. Once shelled, the hazelnut has a bitter dark brown skin, which should be removed before cooking the nuts. The flesh of hazelnuts is white, and slightly sweet when the bitter skin is not present. The nuts can be used as a topping for soups and salads. Many cooks toast hazelnuts before using them to enhance their mild flavour. They are a good source of Vitamin E and B. Oils from the nuts are extracted and used in a number of beauty products.
How are hazelnuts created?
The catkins actually bloom in the winter, which makes the hazelnut unusual for a fruit tree. The wind carries the pollen to the female red blossoms, and then, it goes dormant until spring, when fertilization actually occurs. Shortly afterward, the nut starts to develop.
Why eat hazelnuts?
Hazelnuts are eaten raw, roasted or ground into flour. They are not only tasty, but they offer many health benefits as well, making them a delicious and nutritious snack.
Here are four reasons to increase your intake of these super-healthy nuts.
1. They Contain Good fats – high in omega-9 fatty acids. These healthy oils play an important role in balancing cholesterol in the body, as well as helping to lower blood pressure and offer protection against coronary heart disease and diabetes.
2. They are rich in vitamins and minerals – an excellent source of the antioxidant Vitamin E. Hazelnuts have the highest concentration of folate among all the tree nuts and also contain calcium, magnesium and potassium.
3. They are rich in Phytochemicals – including proanthocyanidins, quercetin, and kaempherol.
4. They are high in protein and fibre – a good alternate protein source for those who don’t eat meat.
Nut allergy info
More of the light oils are present when the nuts are green or raw (unroasted) and are much more dangerous for anyone with a nut allergy.
- Will hazelnuts keep if I pick them when them when they are still green? You can harvest and store green hazel nuts as long as you allow them to dry properly (airing cupboard, window sill etc) and will keep till Christmas. Alternatively roast them, allow to cool and store roasted nuts in zipper bags. Use within a month or freeze them.
- Can I forage for hazelnuts in the wild? Yes fresh green hazelnuts are prolific in most ancient hedgerows, and are ready to eat straight from the tree, (squirrels permitting). In this green state they are quite different from the hard, brown-shelled, Christmas nut they will eventually become. Their flesh has the crisp crunch of overgrown peas, and a sweet vegetable taste. However they are probably smaller than the commercially grown ones. Most wild hazels are best eaten green as they tend to be on the smaller size, and thus shrink to next to nothing if you let them ripen.
- What is a Cobnut? A cobnut is the most widely cultivated form of hazelnut (the word filbert is also sometimes used). Cobnuts were traditionally grown in Kent and can still be found there, as well as in Sussex, Devon and Worcestershire. Grown commercially they are bigger than wild hazels and, provided they are fresh (the leafy frill on the nut casing should not be too brown and dried out), they are very worthwhile. You may be able to buy fresh hazels from the local farm shop or grocer.
- How do I dry green hazelnuts? Collect the nuts and keep the good ones (those not damaged or with scabs on) leave them in a dark but ventilated place they will rippen nicely. Only use larger ones if you are aiming to keep them until Christmas. Here’s a link to info on how to store the unripe ones which you often have to pick early to beat the squirrels/mice/birds to.
- Where do dried hazelnuts come from? Despite the fact that hazelnuts are grow in many different regions worldwide, the vast majority of the dried ones sold in this country come from Turkey.
- How to remove the skins from hazelnuts? Try roasting them in the oven at 275 degrees for 15 minutes. Then put them in a towel and rub them until the brown skin falls off. Or place the nut on a hard flat surface and place a heavy board on top, roll the board over them and most of the husks will split. Then pull off the husk where it splits.
- When will hazels fruit? Hazels will begin to produce nuts three to four after planting, but it may take 2-3 more years before they really take off and produce heavily. A healthy tree can remain fruitful until well into its fortieth year of life.
- Do I need a male and female hazel tree? Hazels have both male and female blooms on the same plant which form during the prior year and remain dormant through most of the winter. They bloom very early in the year (spring). Male (pollen producing) blooms are called catkins. Female (fruiting) blooms produce the nuts and are very small and easily overlooked. They look similar to leaf buds on branches, but they are rounder shaped with very small red threads coming out of them.
Roast your hazelnuts. Using a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until fine and powdery. If your food processor is strong enough, the hazelnuts will eventually turn creamy and smooth. Then add the spread sauce made from 150g Icing sugar & 50g green & blacks cocoa powder. Video link to making nutella. Recipe link for vegans.
Whizz up some hazel nuts and garlic in a blender with some olive oil , lightly simmer for a few minutes to take the edge off the nuts and garlic, then take off the heat and add chopped basil and serve on top of pasta.
Select the best hazelnuts, (plump without any sign of shriveling). If the shells of the hazelnuts are still on, look for smooth, glossy shells with no signs of cracks or holes, and shake them. The nuts should not rattle in the shell, as this indicates that they have lost moisture. Lay the nuts out on newspaper to dry for a few days before roasting them. Add your pickling ingredients and store in an airtight container.
Celts and Druids believed that hazelnuts were a source of wisdom and the tree itself was sacred. In Greek mythology hazel branches were woven into headpieces and worn to protect warriors from evil. Irish folklore states that drinking hazelnut beverages helped develop prophetic powers.
In Roman Britain, Hazel trees were once cultivated and became so abundant that Scotland was named Caledonia (a term derived from Cal-Dun, meaning “Hill of Hazel”) after them.
The nuts of the Hazel were commonly used to bring luck by stringing them together and hanging them in the house. Such a string of nuts were often given to a new bridesmaid as a gift to wish her wisdom, wealth and good health. When eaten the hazelnuts are said to increase fertility, and of old were eaten before divination to increase inspiration.
Down through the ages the Hazel has always been considered magical, and was used primarily for its powers of divination. Hazel divining rods or dowsing rod are used to detect water and mineral veins. Typically a divining rod has two forks off its main stem shaped like the letter “Y”. The two forks of the rod are gripped with the fore fingers along the forks, so that the tail end of the rod points down toward the ground to begin searching. Another method was to peel the bark of the rod and simply lay it on the palm of the hand.
websites used in the making of this article: