Hazel Fact File
Corylus avellana (Latin) Coll ( Ogham)
Hazel is a tree as well-used and known as the oak; it has played a huge part in the history of Woodsmanship in Britain. It spread effectively throughout Britain after the last ice age and probably helped form a staple food for early humankind.
The hazel is known as the Celtic Tree of Knowledge and it is not hard to see why the nuts (representing illumination) were revered in a time when much of our native foods must have been bland in comparison. Hazel is connected to the life of the salmon which also represents illumination and must have also been a staple food fit for the gods!
Hazelnuts are rich in mineral salts and can be ground to a powder to make flour. The hazelnut can also be used to soothe sore throats and relieve symptoms of a head cold. It is also thought that hazelnuts bestow the gift of eloquence.
Not only does the hazel tree provide a rich source of food, its wood is ideal for many crafts due to it being strong, flexible and easy to split and coppice. The wood can be used to make hurdles for fencing, walls for housing, springels to hold thatch in place, stakes and supports to grow plants. It can also be used to make fishing rods, baskets and coracles.
No wonder the hazel became so venerated with its multitude of uses. The traditional stories explore a deep spiritual aspect to its multi-faceted usage. One of the most famous story connected to hazel is of Fionn MacCuill from the Fenian cycle in Irish mythology who becomes enlightened merely from sucking the juice of the salmon of Fec which was caught in a pool surrounded by nine hazel trees, the nuts of which the salmon fed upon.
Hazel catkins mark the time of Imbolc or Oimelc (which means butter bag) as they resemble lamb’s tails and this season is traditionally the time when lambs are born and sheep begin to lactate. It is also the festival of Brighid who amongst other things is the muse of poets through the hazel tree.
The hazel is connected to the elements and has lightness about it. However there is also the story of the dripping hazel tree poisoned by the head of the giant Balor ( leader of the Fomhoire). This may well be a threshold tree acting as a guardian to the Otherworlds. To confront this tree is to experience your darker nature. Satire and keening can be associated with this tree in Celtic lore.
Hazel generally prefers a more acid soil and supports a rich flora; it will co-exist happily with honey fungus provided there is not too much shade and trees aren’t planted!
Commercial forestry does not employ hazel so extensively as it would have done at one time partly due to a decline in the faggot trade although hazel is still in demand for wattle hurdles often now used for motorway fencing and in gardens.
Hampshire and Sussex are strongholds for hazel but on a national scale hazel is declining and is threatened due to its lack of regeneration. Neglected coppice means the tree will not flower and therefore fruit. When hazel does fruit the wood pigeons and squirrels will devour the nuts, often when they are still unripe meaning dropped seed will not grow.
The hazel tree as with so many of our trees needs our attention and protection as its habitat becomes neglected, this is a perfect example of how keeping our traditional crafts alive and using rather than neglecting the tree will help preserve it for future generations.
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