Hazelnuts


The holiday season is upon us again and familiar goodies abound on store shelves. Mixed nuts have always been a favorite of mine ever since I was a kid. I always enjoyed cracking them and extracting the sweet meat. Pecans, English walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts suddenly appear in the produce section.

I love them all, but the hazelnuts are probably my favorite. Wild ones were hardy in the cooler climates where I was raised. Since I spent much of my free time in the woods, I soon scoped out several small thickets of them. These were great spots to flush a grouse or two.

Two species are common throughout North America. The American hazelnut, rare in the lower coastal plain, is larger and more similar to the domestic filbert. Beaked hazelnuts, found in the mountains of North Carolina, have still smaller fruits. Both of these birch relatives thrive in a variety of environments but fruit better if exposed to sun.

Called filberts by many, nuts from the American hazelnut are light brown and acorn-like. They are half to three quarters of an inch long and slightly wider.  Two leafy coarsely toothed husk-like bracts enclose the shells.

In Eastern North America, hazelnuts have not been commercially successful. This is largely due to a disease called eastern filbert blight, a fungus disease which invades the twigs and eventually kills the plant. The native hazels are resistant, some are even immune to this disease.

Susceptible European types are the ones favored for the table. They have larger nuts and thinner shells but are adapted to drier areas, such as eastern Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Some are also raised in parts of the upper Midwest.

Hazelnuts make attractive naturalizing landscaping. Ruffled doubly toothed oval leaves turn orange to red or purple in the fall. Trees are small and seldom grow taller than 12 to 14 feet. Some cultivars are even shorter. One ornamental cultivar called the Harry Lauder’s walking stick has twisted branches and is very attractive in winter.

Male and female flowers are separate, but both reside on every plant. Flowers bloom in early spring, but are not overly showy. Sometimes a late frost can kill the young fruits. Nuts ripen in October but can be kept for long periods.

Some people confuse hazelnuts with chestnuts. However, chestnuts are larger, shinier and don’t rattle when you shake them. The trees look nothing alike and are not closely related.

The beaked hazelnut is the species I have collected most from the wild. Nuts are much smaller than the commercial filbert. Shells are slightly thicker. I think the taste is a little sweeter. Long beak-like husks cover the shells, hence the name. One problem I encountered was that the squirrels, jays and crows harvested them before they were completely ripe.

Blue jays and squirrels are the major thieves to both species of hazelnuts. However, if attracting wildlife is part of your reason for planting them it’s not a problem. You can always buy some at the store.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmerican hazelnut catkins in the winter sun

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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15 Responses to Hazelnuts

  1. I have never tried this but they say there good

  2. I am not a big fan of hazlenut but i hear its very good

  3. kimberlypaigeweaver says:

    The taste of this is ok but its not my favorite.

  4. awhitenhs12 says:

    The taste of hazlenut is ok, i like it mixed in with chocolate, like they have in that spread nutella.

  5. sbright16 says:

    I do not like hazelnuts, in my opinion they do not taste very good.

  6. alot of people like the way it tastes, but i have never tried it but im sure it’s good

  7. i dont care too much for these nuts, but its interesting the many things they can be used for

  8. susiehedley says:

    I actually did confuse hazelnuts with chestnuts. It’s good to know the differences between them. I’m interested to taste them now.

  9. a lot of people think this tastes good i hate the way it tastes.

  10. Morgan Murray says:

    Hazelnut is a very popular type of nut especially during holidays. The trees grow from about 12-14 feet tall. They are not commercially successful in Eastern North Carolina because of a fungal disease called filbert blight. The native hazels are resistant to filbert blight, some even immune to it. Wildlife such as blue jays an squirrels love hazelnuts. I am personally not a very big fan of hazelnuts.

  11. ashleychory says:

    The trees grow from about 12-14 feet tall. They are not successful in Eastern North Carolina because of a fungal disease called filbert blight. The native hazels are resistant to filbert blight, some even immune to it. Wildlife such as blue jays an squirrels love hazelnuts.Hazelnut is a very popular type of nut especially during holidays.

  12. i really like the taste of hazel nut it is delicious

  13. I never knew that the plant was a hazelnut plant. I like the taste of hazel nuts.

  14. trevashley96 says:

    Me and my family are big fans of hazelnuts. They’re not my favorite type of nuts but I do enjoy them. Especially around this time of year.

  15. alishabw says:

    they aren’t my favorite type of nut id much rather have walnuts but my dad always has the chocolate hazelnut sprad and mixed nuts in the cabinet so I guess they are okay.

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