August brings us into the time of the Hazel Tree. A tree of protection, knowledge, wisdom and creativity. Native to Ireland, they can live up to 80 years (if looked after they can live for a few hundred years!). Spring flowers like lesser celandine, wood anemones, bluebells, wood sorrels and dog violets love to hang out under a hazel tree. The soft, round leaves appear in May and early growth can have a little red added to them. Rather than one big tree trunk, they grow with stems or poles together. That's one easy way to identify them. Sometimes they get mixed up with Alder trees - their leaves are more shiny and less hairy.
The nuts are edible for humans and animals alike, usually appear around September. The catkins or lambs tails (flowers) appear in February before the leaves. Since ancient times hazel woven into a frame has been used in house building or as fences protecting sheep. Today hazel is mainly used for making baskets. The wood has also been used to make rods for water divining. Hazelnuts were carried as charms and/or held to ward off rheumatism. Walking sticks made from hazel wood are prized. They are gnarled and each one has its own look. They help the owner possess wisdom.
And of course, we are very familiar with the story of the salmon of knowledge in the river Boyne. If you are not, a quick synopsis...
So, the hazel is usually found grown close to streams and water. The nuts then fall into the water and the salmon will feed on these amongst other things. The legend goes that those who ate the fish were said to gain prophetic abilities and live a life full of wisdom!
A young lad by the name of Fionn mac Cumhaill (pronounced Finn MacCool) was with his druid master Finnegas. The druid went off to collect wood telling the young Mac Cumhaill that he would be back shortly and to mind the salmon they had cooking - but not to eat it as he had to because he was the sage of wisdom. Whoever ate the salmon first would gain all the knowledge of the world. Story goes Fionn was turning the salmon on the spit and burnt his thumb which he then placed in his mouth - whoopsy - became all wise. He went on to be a wise poet, warrior and leader. He became a great leader of the Fianna, the greatest band of warriors Ireland has ever known.
Keep an eye out for your hazel tree.
Love trees, want to find out more and support those who are looking after our trees? Check out https://www.treecouncil.ie