A small deciduous tree with light brown pendulous male catkins and tiny bright red female flowers. During February the male catkins lighten in colour, elongate and release puffs of pollen to the wind. Tiny buds with three bright red styles are the female flowers.
Hazel catkins add lovely golden hues to the Burren roadsides and woodlands from early February. Often overlooked, the beautiful tiny buds and three bright red styles of the female flowers are worth searching for. Hazel leaves are round with a characteristic tooth at the tip, the whole leaf is heart like in shape. Newly emerged bright green leaves are an uplifting sight and are soothingly soft to the touch . During the Autumn months Hazel leaves add rich golden hues to the Burren hedgerows, woodlands and roadsides.
Following pollination ( by wind) hazel gifts us with its much loved hazelnuts in late Autumn
Uses and other points of interest:
Hazel was highly regarded in Ireland by our ancients. It was one of the seven noble trees of the woodland (airig fedo) because of its many valuable uses from food to building. It was held as sacred and seen as a symbol of mystical wisdom, great knowledge and protection. The shape of the hazel nut is a used in Irish folklore as a symbol of the heart.
Hazel was a very important wild food source in ancient times and, more recently, during the famine years in Ireland. Hazelnuts were ground up to make a flour and a drink and could last up to a year when carefully stored . In ancient Ireland, dandelions, chickweed, wood sorrel and hazel buds were boiled in oatmeal to make a healing mixture known as Diancnecht’s Porridge that was used to treat sore throats, colds and phlegm.
Hazel mead was a popular drink enjoyed by many in early Ireland.
The finest of charcoal was made from hazel in medieval Ireland.
Hazel rods are often used in water divining.
Hazel trees are synonymous with the Burren
The sight of hazel catkins in the hedgerows and roadsides in early Spring lifts the spirits. Winter is at an end and once again Spring is on the way.
I have always enjoyed the taste of hazelnuts, they bring back childhood memories of my father arriving home from the Burren with pockets full of hazelnuts. We happily cracked them open using stones and sometimes our teeth, enjoying them even while still green, delighted to be eating wild food.
Over zealous hedge cutting in late autumn and early winter along the Burren roadsides has resulted in a distinct absence of hazel catkins during Spring. This in turn leads to less available hazelnuts in the Autumn months. Hazelnuts are a very important source of fats and proteins for small animals like squirrels and mice, particularly during the lean winter months.
Large scale removal of hazel in the Burren lowlands in recent years has lead to a decrease in hazel woodland habitat in the Burren. As an ecologist I am not in favour of this activity and question its benefits to overall habitat biodiversity in the Burren. On returning to the Burren in 2016 after an absence of almost 10 years I was shocked and disappointed to see such large scale destruction and disturbance to this wildlife habitat. Removal of Hazel scrub from areas where it forms a mosaic with limestone pavement does not make any ecological sense. These particular areas of scrub over limestone pavement never supported orchid rich grasslands but had an immense value to local biodiversity by increasing available microhabitats in particular to insects and birds.