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).
THE HAZEL BRANCH
One afternoon the Christ-child had laid himself in his
cradlebed and had fallen asleep. Then his mother came to him, looked
at him full of gladness, and said, “Hast thou laid thyself down to
sleep, my child? Sleep sweetly, and in the meantime I will go into
the wood, and fetch thee a handful of strawberries, for I know that
thou wilt be pleased with them when thou awakest.” In the wood
outside, she found a spot with the most beautiful strawberries; but
as she was stooping down to gather one, an adder sprang up out of
the grass. She was alarmed, left the strawberries where they were,
and hastened away. The adder darted after her; but Our Lady, as
you can readily understand, knew what it was best to do. She hid
herself behind a hazel bush, and stood there until the adder had
crept away again.
Then she gathered the strawberries, and as she set out on her way
home she said, “As the hazel bush has been my protection this
time, it shall in future protect others also.” Therefore, from the
most remote times, a green hazel branch has been the safest
protection against adders, snakes, and everything else which
creeps upon the earth.
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.