hazelnutsthumb.JPGAugust 2011 - This doesn't happen often - although hazel trees are common, and produce nuts in abundance year after year, it always seems like the squirrels, mice, jays and weevils snaffle the crop before humans can get a look in.

Time and chance was kind to me on this occasion though and I was delighted to gather a satisfying heap of hazelnuts.


What Are Hazelnuts?

Corylus avellana - Common Hazel is a clump-forming shrubby tree with rounded, softly downy leaves which are toothed at the margin. In spring, the tree is festooned with long pale greey-yellow catkins. In late summer or autumn, the nuts are borne, typically in small clusters of three or so, each with its own frilled leaf-like collar.


hazelnuts2.JPGWhen the nuts are ripe, they fall to the ground. They're not worth picking until this point.

If you gather them early, the kernel inside will be milky and soft and will wither to a disappointing little shred, rather than ripening to a crisp and tasty nut.

Unfortunately, the host of wild creatures that rely on these nuts as food aren't so fussy, so in most cases, many of the nuts will be gone before they're ripe - and all you'll see is a carpet of shell fragments beneath the tree.

Sometimes though, everything will work out just right - a tree will produce a superabundance of nuts - more than the local squirrels can cope with - and you'll happen upon it at just that special moment when the nuts are falling.

hazelnuts3.JPGThis happened to me - I'd gone out looking for blackberries, without much success - but this meant I had a spare pot ready to fill with hazelnuts.

These will need ripening a little more before they're truly ready for consumption.

hazelnuts4.JPGThey're noticeably smaller than the cultivated varieties of nut offered for sale in the shops - but the shells are a bit thinner, so there's still plenty of room inside for a tasty little kernel.

I'll probably eat most of these just as they are, but I might cover some in chocolate, or toast and crush them to sprinkle on top of ice cream.

Uses For Hazel

Hazel has a naturally suckering or clump-forming growth habit and commonly produces masses of very straight, vertical stems.

hazelnuts5.JPGThis can be encouraged by periodic cutting down to the ground (called coppicing) - making this tree historically quite important for the production of straight sticks for the manufacture of arrows, basket work and wattle fences, as well as thicker poles and rails to be used for supporting thatched or turf roofs, the construction of racks and frames and many other items.