The name is well known, mainly because of the delicious nut that comes from this tree, but how many people can identify the tree. Probably not as many as know the name. This will give you a rundown of the tree, how to identify it and its uses.
The first thing I always notice about hazel is how it grows, in clusters, called coppices. Multiple trunks of varying sizes all shooting within a small area, that’s the first tell-tale indicator that the tree is hazel. The tree is mainly found in the under-story, growing beneath the taller trees like ash, oak or beech, this can also be a good indicator.
As you approach the tree look down, if it’s a well-established tree you will probably notice the shells of the opened hazel nuts. If you can see these then you can be pretty sure, without even looking at the leaf, that the tree is hazel.
If it’s a younger tree there is a good chance there won’t be any shells, in which case looking at the bark and leaves can help you identify the tree. The leaf shape is oval, tapering towards the stem, but they can be quite circular. The leaf is pointed at the end and some small serrations are around the circumference. The bark is greyish brown, being browner when young. As the tree ages the bark becomes more grey and silvery. The nuts grow in small clusters from the female flowers and are surrounded by a leafy light green capsule.
Hazel grows in very straight shoots, making it traditionally used for arrows. The wood can also be used for bow drill fire making, as the straight shoots can easily be crafted into spindles although for this the wood must be dead standing or allowed to dry. The wood is straight grained and good for carving, it’s a good wood to use for projects as branches that are cut will quickly shoot again, helping reduce the impact of harvesting on woodlands. Hazel also produces hot embers when burnt so is good for cooking fires. The very young shoots in spring can be used as withies, they are so pliable they can be used to bind or lash objects together. The nuts of course are a delicious autumn treat, either eaten raw or roasted by the fire.
The nuts, like all wild foods, provide an important source of calories for wildlife before winter, so be very mindful when harvesting the nuts ensuring only a few are taken from a number of trees to help reduce the impact.