Hazel is a genus of trees and shrubs, in the birch family. There are 50 to 80 species, in four genera. They are native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. The fruit of the hazel is the hazelnut.
The nuts of all hazels are edible. The common hazel is the species most extensively grown for its nuts, followed in importance by the filbert. Nuts are also harvested from the other species, but apart from the filbert, none is of significant commercial importance.
Hazel is a traditional material used for making wattle, withy fencing, baskets, and the frames of coracle boats. The tree can be coppiced, and regenerating shoots allow for harvests every few years.
Mythology and folklore
The Celts believed hazelnuts gave one wisdom and inspiration. There are numerous variations on an ancient tale that nine hazel trees grew around a sacred pool, dropping into the water nuts that were eaten by salmon (a fish sacred to Druids), which absorbed the wisdom. A Druid teacher, in his bid to become omniscient, caught one of these special salmon and asked a student to cook the fish, but not to eat it. While he was cooking it, a blister formed and the pupil used his thumb to burst it, which he naturally sucked to cool, thereby absorbing the fish's wisdom. This boy was called Fionn Mac Cumhail (Fin McCool) and went on to become one of the most heroic leaders in Gaelic mythology.
"The Hazel Branch" from Grimms' Fairy Tales claims that hazel branches offer the greatest protection from snakes and other things that creep on the earth.
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