Foraging hazelnuts with Sylvain Cormier
by Allison Cooke
As foraging season closes, and harvest season is upon us, we now begin to clear out our gardens and get ready for cooler temperatures. We should also pay close attention to the delicious and healthy forgeable nuts that could be falling from the trees in our own backyards during the beginning of autumn. The hazel tree is a small deciduous tree or bush that produces the sweet hazelnuts—a nut that is full of health benefits and is incredibly tasty. If you are lucky enough to have these growing in your backyard, or know when to find them, then you are already well aware of how amazing these hazelnuts can be!
When you are looking for hazelnuts, there are so many factors that come into play in the maturity of their growth, so keep a close eye for fallen nuts. If you spot them on the ground, it means that the rest on the tree are ready to be picked. One of the easiest ways to harvest from the tree is to shake it gently to help them fall to the ground. It’s also a good idea to beat the autumn rains and gather these nuts in October, since the rain will force the hazelnuts off the tree and they will sit on the ground. Make sure to gather them from the ground right away—leaving them on the ground could cause them to become moldy or discolored. It is also imperative you beat the squirrels and the birds, which love to feast on the hazelnuts and are your main competitors. If the tree is on your property, netting on the tree will solve this problem. Otherwise, always be in the habit to check to ensure that they are good to eat—and if not, leave them for your competition to enjoy.
There are a lot of health benefits to eating hazelnuts. First of all, they are a huge source of energy as they are full of fiber, vitamins and are rich in foliates, a unique feature that makes them a great snack for expectant mothers. These nuts are also gluten free, which makes them a safe alternative for people who are sensitive to wheat, gluten or are celiac. You can also use the hazelnut for its aroma—it is often used in skin care products, massage oils, cooking and cosmetics.
There are also a lot of environmental benefits to planting your own hazel trees. If they are planted near a stream, they provide food sources and shelter or nesting sites for our wildlife. They will also shade the stream, which enhances our fish population by controlling the water temperatures. Planting hazel trees or shrubs will help with soil erosion as well as boost soil equality from their leaves in the fall.
If you are planting these trees, it can take up to 4 to 7 years for a tree to mature enough to produce these delicious hazelnuts. However, once it matures, this tree can live and continue to produce for over 50 years—as long as it has the right soils and water and remains healthy. If you choose to store them for the winter, they are best dried. You can dry them outside on an old screen, and it will only take about 2–3 days.
Much like most fresh foods, hazelnuts will lose their healthy value the longer they are left on the ground—so make sure you get out this month and gather them frequently!
Sylvain Cormier is a local forager, and the owner of Everything Wild, a business that promotes unique and wild edibles on Prince Edward Island. It is his top priority to encourage eating locally, sustainably, and appreciating the food we have growing in our backyards.