My beautiful Celtic Hazel artwork - part of my Celtic Tree Calendar collection - plus I take a deeper dive into hazel folklore, history, tales and hazel meaning...
Celtic tree calendar: 5 August - 1 September
The Latin name for hazel is ‘Corylus’. This is because the leaves around the hazelnut look like a style of helmet called ‘Korys’ – so the Corylus is called ‘the helmeted one’.
Scotland may actually be named after the hazel. Caledonia, the old name for Scotland is thought to derive from ‘Cal Dun’ – ‘the hill of hazel’ – signifying how widespread the tree once was in this area.
In Ireland, the 17th-century priest, Geoffrey Keating, writes in his ‘History of Ireland’ of an early king, Mac Coll, meaning ‘Son of hazel’ – who was one of the last kings of the ancient gods, known as the Tuatha de Danaan.
The Useful Tree
Hazel is a nutritious and valuable foodstuff. Hazelnuts have been found, often roasted, in prehistoric hearths, middens (rubbish piles), and even tombs.
Hazel is a vigorous grower and the long stems of hazel are regularly ‘coppiced’ – cut down to the ground.
The stems (also known as ‘rods’) are used for all kinds of practical purposes – and the long hazel rods will have grown again by the following year, so the wood is simply harvested from the living tree in a sustainable manner. This is the way that humans have used the hazel for thousands of years.
The hazel stems are used for beanpoles, walking sticks, hoops, hurdles, hedge-stakes, for basket-making, as beaters, as thatchers’ ‘springels’ and to make ‘coracles’ (small, flat-bottomed boats).
We know that the Romans used supple hazel twigs to tie vines to wooden stakes.
In the Middle Ages, hazel was burnt for use as charcoal – and in the late 13th century, a monk, Roger Bacon, invented a recipe for gunpowder using charcoal from hazel (or willow) mixed with saltpetre and sulphur.
The hazel rods were also often used for divining – we’ll look more at this, later…
The 9th-century ‘Triads of Ireland’ write that the felling of hazel carried the death penalty. Hazel was one of just two trees that carried this punishment (apple was the other) – showing just how important the tree was to society at the time.
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