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The Druids
Hazel Leaves and Nut


Hazel Catkins

Coll, Bringer of wisdom, light, airy one,
bright-branched rod of inspiration
swifter than thought you shoot out intuition.
Your lithe brown wands touch powers unseen
Fleet, magical,
the hands of Druids dance your ecstasies

The Genus Corylus contains about fourteen to eighteen species of deciduous shrubs or small trees native to the Northern temperate zone. The Kew checklist and Flora of Asia disagree on the number. Known as Coll or Cuall by the Celts, it was one of the most magical of Celtic trees and always associated with poetry. Its nuts were believed to contain the essence of poetic inspiration. The "Well of Wisdom" where the Salmon of Wisdom lurked was surrounded by nine sacred hazel trees. The Salmon of Wisdom ate their fruits and thus imbibed knowledge of the otherworld. King Arthur eventually finds the divine child, Mabon ap Mordron ("Son of the divine mother") beside just such a pool.

Hazel wands were, in Druidic lore, linked to the element of air and were used to summon magical power and inspiration from the otherworld. Hazel was also linked to water and hazel dvining rods were used for dowsing. Catkins resemble lambs' tails and if they appeared in January they hailed an early spring. At Beltane, the hides of cattle were singed with burning hazel wands to ward off evil spirits.

An indication of the reverence given to the hazel can be gathered from the fact that in Ireland, felling the hazel carried the death penalty.

Astrologically, hazel is associated with Mercury. The Roman name for the Hazel, Sylvestra relates it to the mischievous Roman god of the forest, Silvanus. To the Celts in Ireland the hazel was always associated with poetic inspiration and an early Irish treatise, the Dinnshenchas, speaks of the "poet's music-haunted hazel" and the " nine hazels of Crimall the sage".

In nineteenth-century Germany it was thought that witches hid beneath the bark of the hazel and so only stripped branches were allowed in church.

Natural Healing

The Hazel is, according to astrologers and Culpeper, under the influence of Mercury.

The tannin content of Hazel leaves gives them an astringent action. Hazel nuts are a good source of vitamin E, protein, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They contain at least 50% oil which can be used as a massage oil or imbibed, for instance as a constituent in a salad dressing.

Culpeper recommends the milk drawn from the kernels of hazel nuts, mixed with mead or honeyed water, to soothe an old cough. The died husks and shells, and much more effectually the red skin which covers the kernel, taken in red wine are useful in dealing with "womens' courses". Parched kernels, with a little pepper added, and taken in a drink is good, according to Culpeper, for "digesting the distillations of rheum from the head".

Practical Uses

Hazel has traditionally been used as one option for basket making, and the Chippewa and Ojiwa tribes of North America used hazel for drumsticks. The flexibility of the withies has made them useful for fencing and in wattle-and-daub walling.

Acknowledgements and further reading:

The Oxford Companion to English LiteratureSir Paul HarveyOUP
The Observer's Book of TreesFrederick Warne & Co. Ltd.
The Meaning of TreesFred HagenederChronicle Books
The Green Man Tree OracleJohn Matthews & Will WorthingtonBarnes & Noble
The Celtic Book of Seasonal MeditastionsClaire HamiltonRed Wheel
The Complete HerbalNicholas CulpeperGreenwich Editions

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Ken James 2008