American hazelnut, aka American Filbert, is a deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub with a rounded top and small, sweet nuts. Known as filberts in ancient times, these plants are a historical symbol of wisdom. The bible and Greek and Roman mythologies mention their nutritional value and ability to heal. Because the pollen is wind dispersed and the female flowers and male catkins on each plant are not self-pollinating, two or more shrubs are necessary for pollination. Hazelnuts are unusual in that they bloom and pollinate in the midst of winter. Cream-colored catkins containing male flowers hang on the branches from fall through winter, slowly loosening to release their pollen. The pollen travels to fringy, red flowers, where it stays dormant until late spring, when nuts begin to form. American hazelnuts have a distinctive, charming cloak of frilly-edged husks that signal maturity in August or September when they are quickly consumed by various wildlife. Fall color may be greenish-yellow, orange, red, or purple.
Native habitats include disturbed areas, roadsides, forest edges, and openings in forests. Makes an excellent hedge and is often used for erosion control, in woodland gardens, or as a filler plant. Prune to use as a specimen tree.
Grows 5-12’ tall with a spread of 10-12’.
Needs at least 4 hours of sun daily. Reaches maximum growth in full sun.
Adapts to well-drained acidic, alkaline, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, and clay soils. Doesn’t do well in boggy areas. Tolerant of drought once established.
Tiny, spidery flowers on tips of branches appear as buds in winter and bloom in spring. Green nuts in papery husks follow in June, ripening from August-October.
Fuzzy, heart-shaped, serrated leaves are 2-3” long.
The trunk, which is multi-stemmed unless pruned into a single leader, is light grayish brown with a netted pattern. Shrubs allow for easy access to harvesting nuts. If tree form is desired, remove lower branches and leave 4-6 branches at the top of the main leader. Continue to remove new branches for several years.
Host to 118 species of Lepidoptera, including four tiny specialist moths and cecropia, polyphemus, and luna moths, which, in turn, become a critical food source for nesting birds, bats, parositoid wasps and numerous other types of wildlife. Insects such as leaf beetles, walking sticks, and leafhoppers feed on the leaves, nuts, and stems. Although hazelnuts don’t produce nectar, bees gather the abundant pollen from the male flowers. The nuts are a preferred food for squirrels, deer, foxes, turkey, woodpeckers, pheasants, grouse, bobwhite quail, and jays. The catkins are a food staple for the declining population of ruffed grouse throughout the winter. The dense, large leaves provide an excellent nesting site for birds.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
In ancient China, the filbert was considered one of the sacred nourishments God bestowed on human beings. Ancient Greek physician Dioscorides believed that filberts cured chronic coughing when eaten with honey, cured colds when mixed with black pepper, and cured baldness when mashed with suet.
Native Americans used bark tea for hives and fevers. A poultice was used to treat tumors, sores, and skin cancers. Twig hairs were used to expel worms.
Hazelnuts contain vitamin E, healthy fat, protein, and fiber. Eating the nuts may help normalize bowel movements, assist with repairing cellular damage, lower LDL cholesterol levels and inflammation, and improve heart health. Oil from hazelnut is also used in food products and cosmetics.
Besides being an ingredient in the popular Nutella spread, hazelnuts are prized for their added flavor in chocolate truffles, Frangelico liqueur, salads, cakes, and other baked goods. Native Americans also used hazelnuts to flavor soups. The nuts may be eaten raw, cooked, or ground into flour for baking. Roasted nuts are a delicious snack. To dry the nuts, lay them on trays in a warm place out of the sun for a few weeks. Turn the nuts every few days. Once fully dry, remove the papery husks and store the nuts in the shell until ready for use.
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