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David Watson Hood, visual artist.
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Hazel: Corylus avellana L. Wild hazelnut, European Filbert, Cobnut, Common hazelnut, European hazel, Hazel, Hazelnut, Alltuinn, Caitlin, Calldainn, Callduinn, Calltainn, Coll, Colluinn (wood, grove).


hazel nutsThere is a view that this plant gave the Roman name to the country before the Scots arrived from Ireland, Caledonia, that it comes from Coll-Dun, meaning 'hills of Hazel'. The problem with this is that nobody living in Caledonia at the time spoke Gaelic and the Romans mostly named countries after their name for the residents, (Caledonians). The modern Welsh for Hazel is collen so perhaps the Romans took the name from 'Strathclyde Welsh'. I cannot find another etymology for the Latin so it may be true, I doubt it, but it is still a most important plant in relation to our cultural origins.

At the end of the ice age, as the ice left the Hazel arrived and following it were our ancestors. In this upside down, protein poor and fat rich, world we now live in, where being fat has become an indicator of poverty and emaciation one of wealth. It is hard to remember that in the world of hunter gatherers carbohydrate is rare and fat is precious, especially in a storable form. The shellfish, venison, wild ox and boar meat of Mesolithic Scotland was mostly low in fats. Wild carbohydrates are mostly found in the hard won underground or underwater roots, rhizomes and tubers of plants such as, water lilies, silverweed, orchids, pignut and the roots of umbelliferae, that are very hard to distinguish from deadly poisonous relatives. The hazelnut has 61 or more grams of fat in 100g as well 17g carbohydrate and 15g protein, also an important list of B vitamins and minerals. It can be identified and safely and easily gathered by almost any child or adult. It is easily stored and transported and at that time was common and widely distributed. Thank the hazel for without it those ancestors of ours may not have survived the northern winters and we would not exist.

The Hazel is now a little rare in most of Northeast Scotland we need to plant more. The recent change in the Common Agricultural Policy with the new emphasis on stewardship has already done a lot to help.

To later generations the Hazel coppice was a sort of subsistence peasants' 'B&Q', the place they went when they needed a bit of wood to make, mend or burn. Both as a hedge plant and as hurdles it enclosed much of the livestock of the pre-industrial world. From the Stone Age until the early 20th century as lathes and wattles it was an important part of our walls, whether to hold plaster or daub. In the coppice system one seventh of the wood was cut each year to give a constant supply of poles for firewood, wattle and daub building, thatching spars, fences, creels and garden plant supports etc.

It is the Celtic tree of knowledge. Around the sacred pool grow the nine hazels whose nuts of knowledge feed the 'Salmon of Wisdom' (the Salmon itself being the other major source of fat particularly the fashionable Omega 3). Whatever you have read in 'Harry Potter' in reality it is hazel wood that magic wands are made from, as was the caduceus of Hermes, and from the druid's staff to the wands of modern followers of ritual magic.

The nut is still considered an essential ritual adjunct to Halloween and Christmas feasts (or Samhain and Yeel if preferred) but nowadays instead of coming from the nearest hedge, it is likely to be from a cultivated hazel orchard in Turkey (Turkish hazelnut production of 625,000 tonnes accounts for approximately 75% of worldwide production). It is also probably at least a year old, and dust dry and bitter, instead of moist and sweet as a local one a few weeks old would be. That’s progress?

It is in flower from January to April, and the seeds ripen from September to October. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by wind. We are all familiar with the male yellow catkins but have not perhaps noticed the tiny female flowers. It is worth a walk in the snow and a carefull look, on a grey late winters day they are one of the most intensly red things you will ever see and once you spot their petals, like tiny sea anemonies, a glimpse into reality on a scale we usualy disregard.

Non-medical uses of hazel
Seed - raw or roasted and used in breads, cakes, biscuits, sweets etc. An excellent nut for raw eating. Cultivated Hazelnuts are extensively used in confectionery to make praline and also used in combination with chocolate for chocolate truffles and products such as Nutella. In Austria and especially in Vienna hazelnut paste is an important ingredient in the world famous torts (such as Viennese hazelnut tort). They can also be liquidized and used as a plant milk. Rich in oil. The seed ripens in mid to late autumn and will probably need to be protected from grey squirrels where they are common (or eat the squirrels, which are excellent particularly as 'Squirrel Maryland' I have not tried deep frying squirrel in hazelnut oil but that might be truly amazing). When kept in a cool place, and not shelled, the seed should keep for at least 12 months. A clear yellow edible oil is obtained from the seed. It is used in salad dressings, as cooking oil, baking etc. The young leaves are an ingredient in various medieval recipes.

The seed contains up to 65% of a non-drying oil, also usable in paints, cosmetics etc. The whole seed can be used to polish and oil wood. The finely ground seeds are used as an ingredient of face masks in cosmetics. Plants can be grown as a tall hedge. They need to be left untrimmed or only lightly trimmed if nuts are required. The bark and leaves are a source of tannin. The wood is soft, easy to split, not very durable, beautifully veined. Used for inlay work, small items of furniture, hurdles, wattles, creels, pea sticks, ties for thatch and etc. The twigs are traditionally used as dowsing rods by water diviners although dry cleaners' wire coat hangers seem more common nowadays. The wood also yields a good quality charcoal, which can be used by artists. The catkins give a dull brown/yellow dye.

Medicinal uses of hazel
Anthelmintic, Astringent, Diaphoretic, Febrifuge, Nutritive, Stomachic, Tonic.
Definitons of medical actions

The bark, leaves, catkins and fruits are sometimes used medicinally. They are astringent, diaphoretic, febrifuge, nutritive and odontalgic. The seed is stomachic and tonic. The oil has a very gentle but constant and effective action in cases of infection with threadworm or pinworm in babies and young children

Sources:
Plants For A Future, www.pfaf.org/index.html,
Flora Celtica, www.floraceltica.com/, Flora Celtica is an international project based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, documenting and promoting the knowledge and sustainable use of native plants in the Celtic countries and regions of Europe.
Wikepedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Hazel

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