The hazel tree presides over the month of July. Hazel trees frequently grow as a clump of slender trunks, and when they do adopt a one-trunk-and-canopy tree shape.The Gaelic word for hazel is Coll. It appears frequently in placenames in the west of Scotland, such as the Isle of Coll and Bar Calltuin in Appin, both in Argyll-shire where the tree and its eponymous placenames are the most common. It also appears in the name of Clan Colquhoun whose clan badge is the hazel. The English name for the tree and its nut is derived from the Anglo-Saxon haesel knut, haesel meaning cap or hat, thus referring to the cap of leaves on the nut on the tree.
Hazel has long been a favourite wood from which to make staffs, whether for ritual Druidic use, for medieval self defence, as staffs favoured by pilgrims, or to make shepherds crooks and everyday walking sticks. In the case of the latter two, the pliancy of the hazel's wood was used to bend the stems into the required shape, though it was also customary to bend the hazel shoots when still on the tree to 'grow' the bend into a crook or walking stick. The wood readily splits lengthways and bends easily, even right back on itself, which makes it ideal for weaving wattle hurdles for use as fencing or as medieval house walls when daubed with mud and lime.
Hazel stakes bent to a U-shape were also used to hold down thatch on roofs. Like willow, young coppiced hazel shoots were used to weave a variety of baskets and other containers. Forked twigs of hazel were also favoured by diviners, especially for finding water. Hazel leaves are usually the earliest native ones to appear in spring and often the last to fall in autumn, and were fed to cattle as fodder. There was also a belief that they could increase a cow's milk yield.
Common throughout Britain and Europe, Hazel trees can also be found in America, North Africa, Turkey and in Central and Northern Asia. More of a large shrub than a tree, its average height is 12–20 feet (3½-6 meters) though is has been recorded growing up to 60 feet (18 meters). Its preference is to grow in copses, oak woods and hedgerows, and thrives in damp places near to ponds and streams, however it will fruit better if grown were the land has good drainage.
The wood of the Hazel tree is a whitish red and has a close and even grain. Today it is mainly grown and coppiced for its smooth reddish-brown stems, which have a great toughness and elasticity from which well-veined veneers are produced from its larger roots. The wood was of particular use to the countryman, and was used to make hampers, hoops, wattles, shepherds crooks, walking sticks, fishing rods, whip-handles and other country items such as rustic seats and baskets for gardens. After burning, the wood of the Hazel tree also makes good charcoal, which crayons and gunpowder are made.
The bark of the Hazel tree is light brown in colour and smooth, except for speckles of spongy light brown lenticels that allow the tree to breathe. The leaves of the Hazel are quite large 2–4 inches (5-10 cm), and are slightly heart-shaped with toothed edges rounding into a long point. In the bud they are folded into several longitudinal plaits. The leaves open in early spring growing singly on a short stem, at which time they tend to be lime-green in colour, but as the year progresses they turn from mid-green in the summer to tints of green, yellow-brown and pink in autumn. The leaves stay with the tree much longer than most other trees, sometimes well into December by which time they turn to shades of yellow, dull orange and red.
Faeries are attracted to hazel.
In legend there are several variations on an ancient tale that nine hazel trees grew around a sacred pool, dropping nuts into the water to be eaten by some salmon (a fish revered by Druids) which thereby absorbed the wisdom. The number of bright spots on the salmon were said to indicate how many nuts they had eaten.
In an Irish variation of this legend, one salmon was the recipient of all these magical nuts. A Druid master, in his bid to become all-knowing, caught the salmon and instructed his pupil to cook the fish but not to eat any of it. However in the process, hot juice from the cooking fish spattered onto the apprentice's thumb, which he instinctively thrust into his mouth to cool, thereby imbibing the fish's wisdom. This lad was called Fionn Mac Cumhail and went on to become one of the most heroic leaders in Irish mythology.
In days gone by hazelnuts would have provided a plentiful and easily stored source of protein, and they were often ground up and mixed with flour to be made into nourishing breads. Cultivated hazelnuts called filberts take their name from St Philibert's Day on 20 August, the date by which hazelnuts were supposed to start ripening. Holy Cross Day on 14 September was traditionally given as a school holiday for children to go nutting, a custom which persisted in England until the First World War. Various places celebrated Nutcrack Night sometime during November, when the stored nuts were opened, though apparently some parishioners were in the habit of taking hazelnuts to church on the following Sunday to be cracked noisily during the sermon. Today hazelnuts continue to be eaten, though more frequently in luxury foods such as chocolate and as hazelnut butter, and as a Christmas delicacy. Woodland crafts using hazel are also enjoying a resurgence, and hazel wattle hurdles have even been used as sound screens along motorways.
The hazelnuts are embodiments of wisdom and children born in the autumn could have the 'milk of the nut', said to be of great benefit. The Celts equated hazelnuts with concentrated wisdom, meditation and poetic inspiration, as is suggested by the similarity between the Gaelic word for these nuts, cno, and the word for wisdom, cnocach. Hazel branches were also used for divination because of their pliancy and affinity for water. Its nuts were often worn as talismans for a healthy life gained through that wisdom.
Healing wands are made from its wood, as are water divining sticks.
The tree itself has few medicinal properties, although the nuts have some. Milk from the nuts can be used to treat chronic cough, and mixed with pepper for runny noses and eyes. Culpeper recommended mixing dried husks with red wine for diarrhoea and for the relief of heavy menstrual flows.. Hazelnuts were also often ground up with flour to make bread. Adder bites were treated by laying cross-shaped pieces of Hazel wood against the wound. The nuts can be ground up and used to sooth sore throat and head cold symptoms.
HAZEL (CORYLLUS AVELLANA)
Well-known hedgerow plant producing catkins and hazelnuts. Supports at least 70 insect species. Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon "haesel knut" - haesel = cap/hat, referring to the cap of leaves on the nut when it is on the tree. Corylus may come from the Greek "kopus" or korus" = a cap (from the husk) or from "karyon" (kapuov) = a nut. The fertilised flowers grow into nuts which ripen September to October. The nuts are distributed by squirrels, woodpeckers and small rodents. Male and female flowers grow on the same tree - the male are catkins. Female flowers are little egg-shaped buds that sit on the branch unstalked.
Hazel is important for providing the main habitat for an ascomycete fungus, a rare fungus in Britain, only discovered on Hazels in the UK in 1970 in Mull. It is also important for lichens and is the best UK host species for Graphidion lichens, some of which are endangered or rare. Five species of moth are associated with Hazel. The leaves are eaten by roe and red deer. It is also an important habitat for the dormouse. Food plant of the caterpillars of the following moths - Oak Beauty, Small White Wave, The Magpie, Clouded Border, Barred Umber and Winter.Hazel is frequently coppiced.
Hazel is the sacred plant of the Celtic sea god Manaman. The Celts also believed that hazelnuts held concentrated wisdom. One old tale tells of Hazel tress growing round Connla's Well, the well of wisdom and believed to be the source of the River Shannon, and dropping hazelnuts into the water. These nuts were eaten by salmon, who were revered by the Druids, who absorbed their wisdom. The number of spots on a salmon indicated the number of nuts it had eaten. Catching a salmon and eating it would endow the eater with wisdom. In an Irish version of this tale, one salmon only ate all the nuts. A Druid master told his pupil to catch and cook the fish but not to eat it. The hot fat from the fish while cooking splattered the pupil's thumb, which he licked to cool it - thereby imbibing the fish's wisdom. He was known as Fionn Mac Cumhail and became one of the most heroic leaders in Irish mythology. The phrase "in a nutshell" probably derives from this legend because all wisdom is within the nut. In Norse mythology Hazel was known as the Tree of Knowledge and was sacred to the god Thor.
Many legends tell of Hazel wands being able to induce shape-shifting, eg, Sadb, mother of Fion's son, Oisin, was turned into a deer by such a wand. According to legend, St Patrick used a Hazel wand to drive the serpents out of Ireland. In folklore, Hazel trees are often found bordering worlds where magical things happen. In "The Discoverie of Witchcraft" (1534), there is record of a Hazel wand used as a charm against witches and thieves.
In Scotland, Hazel was one of the 9 sacred woods used in fires at Beltane. Nuts have been linked with fertility in old country folklore. In nineteenth-century Devon, for example brides used to be met outside church by an old woman holding a basket of hazelnuts to encourage fertility. It was believed that a good nut year meant many babies. Hazelnuts were also given the names of potential husbands and thrown into the fire by eager girls. The loudest pop and brightest flame indicated true love. Similarly, on Halloween (Nut Crack Night) lovers would roast hazelnuts over fires - depending on if they burned steadily or flew apart signified the future of the couple's relationship. At Roman weddings Hazel torches were burnt on the wedding night, meaning happiness for the couple. A double hazelnut will kill a witch. A rosary of hazelnuts = protection. Hazel twigs gathered on Palm Sunday would protect the house from fire and lightening. Cut a Hazel stick before sunrise on May Day and draw a circle round yourself with it to protect against fairies, serpents and evil. Three Hazel pins stuck into a house wall will protect from fire. If you stir jam with a Hazel stick it won't be stolen by fairies.
The Irish kept a hazelnut in the pocket to ward off rheumatism. A double nut protected from toothache. Hazel trees were plentiful in ancient Scotland. The Romans called Scotland Caledonia, from Cal-Dun = "Hill of Hazel". Hazel twigs were used to bind vines to stakes. Vines were sacred to Bacchus, god of wine, and any goats found feeding on them were caught and sacrificed to Bacchus on spits of Hazel. Sheep farmers would not take catkins into the house because they believed to do so would lead to a poor lambing season.
14 September, Holy Cross Day, used to be a school holiday so that children could go nutting. A hurdle of Hazel around a house or a Hazel breast band on a horse, offered protection from evil. In eastern England, Hazel boughs were collected on Palm Sunday and placed in vases on windowsills to protect against lightning.
Hazel is a favourite wood for staffs, ritual wands, walking sticks, self-defence and shepherds' crooks. The wood bends easily so is ideal for weaving fences. Hazel stems bent into a U shape were used for holding down thatch on roofs. Young Hazel shoots were used to make baskets and containers. Forked twigs were used for water divining.
Plant Hazels in a moist but free-draining spot. When trimming in March, make sure, if you want nuts, that you leave some catkins and female flowers on the trees. Will tolerate windy, exposed sites.
The Hazel tree (Corylus avellana) is member of the birch family (Betulaceae), and is one of the sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft. Of old the Hazel tree was revered by the ancient druids and is the ninth tree of the Celtic tree calendar, dated 5th Aug – 1st Sept. In Celtic folklore the Hazel tree is considered a tree of knowledge, particularly in Ireland were it nuts are a symbol of great mystical wisdom. There are some 15 species of Hazel trees native to the Northern temperate zones, the fruit of which are variously called Filbert, Hazelnut or Cobnut depending on the relative length of the nut to its husk. The Filbert variety is of the cultivated European species.
The flowers of the Hazel appear in January, or sometimes even as early as October given the right climatic conditions, though more frequently they won’t open until March. Male and female flowers form on the same tree but in distinct clusters or catkins. The male catkins are pendulous and first appear as minute sausage-shaped buds of a dullish brown colour. As they mature they turn a pale greenish-yellow or primrose colour and when its pollen has been shed to green. The catkin consists of a number of bract-like scales each bearing eight anthers on its inner surface; from these fine-grained yellow pollen is shaken by the wind, after which they are discarded. The female flowers are grouped in little egg-shaped buds that sit sessile on the branch. The flower itself is a two-chambered ovary surrounded by a velvety cup-like bract, which later grows into the large leafy husk of the nut. It is surmounted by a short style with two long crimson stigmas forming a tassel at the top of the cluster.
The fruit of the Hazel tree has a peculiarity in its growth that is worthy of note. The male flowers or catkins are mostly produced on the ends of the year’s shoots, while the female flowers are produced close to the branch where they are completely sessile or un-stalked. In most fruit trees when the flower is fertilized, the fruit is produced in exactly the same place, but with the hazelnut a different arrangement takes place. As soon as the flower is fertilized it starts away from the parent branch and a fresh branch is grown bearing the new leaves with nuts at its end, thus the new nut is produced several inches away from the spot on which its parent flower originally grew.
Hazelnuts generally ripen by September and can be eaten directly off the tree. They also provide a rich source of food for many small animals, such like squirrels and dormice. Birds and in particular nut-hatchers (a variety of small passerine birds of the family “Sittidae”) are partial to the nuts, wedging them in crevices and beating at them with their beaks until they crack. In the old days hazelnuts provided a plentiful and easily stored source of protein, and were often ground up and mixed with flour to make nourishing breads. Left un-eaten the nuts fall to the ground where their shells crack and a new root and stem emerges. As the root embeds into the earth and becomes established, the stem rises and a new sapling is born.
Mythology and folklore:
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. Hazel trees were also well known in Europe where it had been growing since pre-historic times, and where hazelnuts formed part of the staple food diet of the Swiss lake-dwellers. An old custom in Europe was to use small flexible twigs from the Hazel tree to secure grape vines to stakes. As the grape vine is sacred to Bacchus (the Roman god of intoxication and vegetation), any goats or other animals found feeding on the vines were caught and sacrificed to him on spits made of Hazel.
Since mediaeval times trees have been considered sacred. In Ireland in particular three trees gained special prominence, the Apple tree for its beauty, the Hazel for its wisdom and the Oak for its strength. Indeed so sacred were these trees regarded that any unjustified felling of an Apple, Hazel or Oak tree, was a crime worthy of the death penalty. The wood of these trees was also used to construct funeral pyres, at which times particular respect seems to have been paid to the Hazel in relation to its wisdom. Hazel-wands have often been found in the coffins of notable personalities, for among the chiefs and rulers of ancient times, a wand of Hazel was considered a symbol of authority and wisdom.
In Roman mythology the Hazel is attributed to the god Mercury (Mercurius), whose counterpart in Greek mythology is Hermes. Mercury/Hermes was the messenger of the gods and also the god of commerce, manual skill, eloquence, cleverness, travel and thievery. He is often depicted with a staff or wand of Hazel called a Caduceus, and wearing a broad rimed travelling hat and sandals. As Hermes in Greek legend, when he was only a few hours old he escaped from his cradle and went out in search of adventure. Later that evening feeling hungry, he stole two oxen from Apollo (the god of the sun) and hid them in a cave where he killed and eat them. When Apollo discovered what had happened, Hermes played to him on a lyre, which he made by stretching cords across a tortoise shell. Apollo was so charmed by his music he allowed him to go unpunished. In gratitude Hermes gave his lyre to Apollo, who in return gave him a magical Caduceus made of Hazel, said to bestowed wisdom, wealth and prosperity on its owner by turning everything it touched into gold.
Mercury/Hermes as the messenger of the gods could move swiftly through the air and sea. As such the artistic impression of him changed, wings in his hair replaced the broad rimed hat and the sandals became wings at his ankles to aid him as he travelled on the wind. The Caduceus is depicted with two ribbons tied to it indicting speed as he flowed through the air. Later the ribbons changed to serpents as the Caduceus was adopted by the medical profession and became the symbol of the healing arts. The two serpents entwined around the Caduceus are symbolic of illness and health, as well as life and death, for in ancient symbolism the venom of a snake could be used to both heal and poison.
An Irish legend concerning the Hazel has been passed down through its association with water and Salmon. One is a description of Connla’s Well at the foot of Cuilcagh mountain in County Cavan, which is believed to be the source of the River Shannon. The well is surrounded by nine Hazel trees, which produce both flowers and fruit (beauty and wisdom). As the fruit (the nuts) fall into the well, the salmon that live in the well feed on them and whatever number of nuts they eat, so the same number of spots appears on their bodies. The salmon of the Shannon are much prized by fishermen in Ireland, for many believe them to possess wisdom, the recipients of all knowledge gained from the nuts of the Hazel tree.
An old custom of the country village people was to go on picnics called “go’in a nutt’in” taking with them ale or cider. The term “go’in a nutting” was used as a euphemism for courting, the gathering of nuts in the woods and scrubland gave the young folk lots of opportunity for making contact with the object of one’s desire, and was therefore an occasion few would want to miss.
Down through the ages the Hazel has always been considered magical, and was used primarily for its powers of divination. The use of Hazel divining rods (dowsing rod) to detect water and mineral veins comes down from antiquity, the art of which is called “rhabdomancy”. 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. Of old the same method was used to find treasure, thieves and murderers.
The practice of dowsing is still common today in Cornwall, and in other European Country’s. According to folklore and superstition, the dowsing rod is guided to water or mineral lodes by guardian pixies, or the kobolds (gnomes) of Germany. When the dowsing rod begins to twitch, the dowser or rhabdomancer is said to feel a sudden acceleration or retardation of the pulse, or a sensation of great heat or cold at the moment of discovery. In the past other woods such as the Willow tree, were also used for dowsing.
No doubt it was from using Hazel rods in divination, that its fruit the Hazelnut became associated with fortune telling. In Scotland an old custom of love divination is still practiced on Halloween, in which two hazelnuts are given the names of lovers and placed on burning embers. If they burn quietly and remained side by side, the lovers were considered faithful, but if the nuts crack, spit or roll apart, they were considered to be ill-matched and one of them unfaithful.
In ritual Hazel wands are used in connection with mercurial energy from which poetic and magical inspiration is gained and imparted. Hazel wands can also be used to divine suitable places in which to work magick. An old method of cutting a wand was to find a tree that has yet to bare fruit, and at sunrise on a Wednesday (the day ruled by Mercury), to cut a branch with a single stroke from a sickle. The Hazel is considered to be at its most powerful during early spring while its sap is still rising, and in autumn when its sap and energy is fully contained within ready for its harvest of nuts. A good divining rod is said to “squeal like a pig” when held under water.
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.
Also of old, supple twigs if Hazel were woven into crowns and called “wishing caps”, which when worn and if you wished very hard, would make all your desires come true. Sailors, believing them to offer protection against bad storms at sea, also wore wishing caps. The ancient druids believed they could induce invisibility by wearing them. Twigs of Hazel placed on window ledges give protection against lightening, and three pins of Hazel hammered into a wall of the house would protect it from fire.
Carrying a double hazelnut in a pocket was and old country charm used to prevent toothache. If bitten by a snake, an equal armed cross made of Hazel laid upon it, was an ancient remedy said to draw out the poison. The kernels of the nut ground fine and mixed with mead or honeyed water is said to be good for coughs that won’t clear, and when mixed with pepper in a decoction will clear a muzzy head.
The Hazel is known by the folk names: Coll, the Poets Tree and Dripping Hazel. Its deity associations are with: Mercury, Hermes, Thor, Mac Coll, Aengus, Artemis and Diana. Its ruling planets are the Sun and Mercury. Its associated element is Air, but it also has a great affinity with Water. Its gender is masculine. It is used to attract the powers needed for: Protection, Fertility, Luck, Lightening, Inspiration and anything associated with the element Air.
Astrologically Hazel people (i.e. those who are born during the month of August) have the soul of a pioneer, but they waste too much energy on competitive thoughts and fighting abuses instead of letting their own gifts and skills ripen. They can be impatient for things to happen, and hurry things along when they should sit back and let things take their own course, so intent on running around trying new things they forget the value of being patience. When Hazel people listen to their own natural rhythms, they find they are happier and more prepared spiritually and physically. They are generally charming, undemanding and understanding, and know how to make an impression. They can be active fighters for social causes, are popular but can be moody. They are capricious lovers but are honest and tolerant partners. They also have a precise sense of judgment about what is right and wrong.