If you’re lucky you can gather these before they’re squirrelled away or munched shamelessly on the spot! Like other nuts, hazelnuts contain high levels of vitamin E and produce one of the most highly unsaturated oils. They also have significant amounts of beta carotene, folic acid and the minerals manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and iron, and are a good source of dietary fibre and protein.
Hazelnut is monoecious, meaning that individual male and female flowers develop on the same tree. Male flowers are the showy yellow catkins whilst the red coloured female flowers are very tiny. Wind carries the pollen to the female flowers during the winter months, which then remain dormant until the following summer when the fruit starts to develop. The nuts develop in clusters and once mature fall out of the husks and onto the ground below. These are gathered and buried by squirrels who, being forgetful little creatures, don’t always remember where they put them, hence potential new trees are planted in situ and ready to grow.
The Ancient Greeks used hazelnuts for treating coughs and baldness whilst the Romans fashioned torches from the branches for wedding ceremonies, believing that hazelnut ensures a long, happy and prosperous marriage.
Today Hazelnuts are one of the most commonly cultivated and consumed nuts and there is evidence of cultivation and harvesting of hazelnuts more than 5000 years ago. It’s a lovely oil to cook with if you like the strong flavour. I use hazelnut oil in my massage practice as it is very nourishing and has the ability to penetrate deeply into the skin’s layers. It also has astringing, (drying), properties, making it useful for conditions such as acne or oily skin.