Under The Hazel Tree

Hazel catkins and flowersAs a child, I used to watch the swaying branches of a hazel tree in my grandparents’ garden.  I played with the catkins, and in autumn I picked and ate the hazel nuts – usually, in my impatience, before they were ready.

When I was looking for a title for my magazine, ‘The Hazel Tree’ came to mind.  I liked the image it created, and when I looked a bit deeper, I was fascinated by some of the stories that I found…

Hazel trees have been present in Britain since ancient times.  It’s believed that Mesolithic people carried hazel nuts as a source of food, and this in turn assisted the spread of the trees.  Ripe hazel nuts attract red squirrels and woodpeckers, and they’re also an important source of food for dormice.

In Celtic folklore, hazel nuts represented wisdom and poetic inspiration.  Hazel shafts were used for water divining, and this practice evolved into the making of pilgrims’ staffs, shepherds’ crooks and walking sticks.

Known as the Tree of Knowledge in Norse mythology, the hazel was sacred to the god Thor;  in Irish and Welsh folklore, the hazel was believed to be a fairy tree, and it still grows near many holy wells.  Tara, the seat of ancient Irish kings, was located close to a hazel wood;  and it is said that members of the Fianna, a legendary band of Irish warriors, learned to defend themselves with only a hazel stick and a shield.

Hazel nutsLegends of the Fianna

According to an ancient Irish legend, the branches of a hazel tree overhung the Well of Wisdom.  Nine hazel nuts fell into the pool, and were eaten by salmon, a fish revered by the druids.  The fish developed bright spots on their scales according to how many nuts they had eaten.

Later, while cooking one of these fish for his druid master, a young lad called Fionn mac Cumhaill ate some of the salmon’s flesh;  in doing so, he gained the salmon’s magical knowledge and grew up to become one of the most heroic figures in Irish mythology.

In Scotland, several place names derive from the Gaelic word calltuin, or hazel grove:  one instance is Calton Hill in Edinburgh, and another is Barcaldine in Argyll.

At Ballachuan on Seil Island, an ancient and beautiful hazel wood stretches right down to the loch shore.  Even in bright weather, the woodland is damp and dimly lit.  The hazel trees’ thick, gnarled branches are festooned with ferns and lichen, and the place has a wonderful sense of timelessness.

So… whether you liken yourself to a druidic salmon, consuming the nuts of wisdom, or whether you just share my interest in the natural world, I hope you’ll find something to inspire you under the branches of The Hazel Tree!

Photos copyright © Jo Woolf

To learn more about hazel trees, take a look at this feature;   and to read more about me, click on my Welcome page.



  1. What a wonderful online magazine- I enjoy the layout and the articles (especially the historical ones)- such a pleasant way to explore the British Isles online!

  2. Incidentally as I type this, the Hazel Tree catkins are already showing themselves and dangling well as I’m informed by the UK Phenology Project. I run a phenology based blog myself, should you wish to visit.

    Kind Regards

    Tony Powell

  3. Lovely job with your online magazine, Jo! I did not know that hazelnuts represented wisdom and poetic inspiration–no wonder I like them.:-) You have a lot of interesting nuggets here. I’m glad to have found you.

  4. Stephanie Jill Rudd says:

    Wonderful. You may be interested in one of my blogs: http://underneaththebanyantree.wordpress.com/about/

  5. What a lovely blog! Beautiful layout too.

  6. Such a beautiful blog! From The Garden Cat’s François and Gwendolen

  7. Hi Jo,I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award. I hope the you are able to accept. Please check out the rules on my blog,


  8. How lovely to learn the history and lore of the hazel nut tree. I wish I had paid more attention to the one that grew on my great grandmother’s farm. As a child my only interest was the hazel nuts themselves.

  9. Okay, this is super interesting. I had no idea the hazel tree was so rich in legend. I love the name of your blog. I’m glad we crossed here on the wordpress world. I will be coming by more often for sure. Great content 🙂

  10. I interesting blog ,Great online magazine Sure we will hear more of your Dowsing experiences lovely pics .
    My Pendulum gives a positive response !

  11. And then the scientific revolution came. They threw the baby out with the bath water. And thanks to your efforts Jo, we are learning again how important plants are to humans. They are not things. They are portals. Thank you!

    • Very true, Edward – science and wisdom are sometimes worlds apart! I am learning a lot myself through this blog – it’s an ongoing process. Thank you so much for your kind comment! 🙂

  12. Mice gnaw a round hole in the Hazel nut, squirrels split them neatly in half…

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