Wild hazelnuts (or filberts) bear exactly the same nut as the cultivated variety, although the wild ones are usually smaller. The nuts are born in clusters on the end of branches; hazel blooms in late winter to very early spring with male and female flowers on the same plant. The nut clusters are called burrs and the best way to pick them is to pick the whole burr and get the nuts out later.
The Irish hero Finn Mac Cumhail, or Finn MacCool as he is also called, is said to to have accidentally eaten some of the Salmon of Knowledge when he was cooking the fish for the old Druid with whom the child Finn was living. A bubble of oil on the fish burst, splashing Finn's fingers. He instinctively put his fingers in his mouth, and that action transferred the wisdom of the salmon to Finn--wisdom he used many times in his career (2).
In the story of King Arthur's Cave (3), a hazel stick is said to be able to be used as a witching stick to find gold beneath the ground, just as many use a peach branch to divine or witch for water (I've tried this myself and watched in amazement as the forked peach stick was pulled to the ground). Hazel staffs were a favorite of the Druids and for simpler folk as a walking stick (4). Most of the hazel in my area is too small for such uses, growing more as a small shrub and not as a tree. Thin hazel branches can be used to weave wattle fences, and hazel is also believed to offer protection from venomous snakes, according to a Grimm's fairy tale (5).
1) From Trees for Life
2) From Encyclopedia Mythica
3) Griffis, William. King Arthur's Cave, in Welsh Fairy Tales
4) From Growing Hazelnuts in Food Skills for Self-Sufficiency
5) Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm. The Hazel Branch.
Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.