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The hazel is a large shrub, whose botanical name is Corylus avellana, widespread in the Mediterranean area, and also in Italy, in the wild. Shrubs have thin and branched stems, which can reach 3-5 meters in height; the foliage is roundish, apine, deciduous, with a rough surface; more than just shrubs, in its natural state hazel stumps are produced, as the stones tend to constantly produce lateral shoots to the stem, which start directly from the soil, and develop rapidly. The flowers are long yellow catkins, which are produced in February or March, well before the leaves are produced, and give the plant a decidedly special appearance in the winter garden. The shrub looks quite messy, and only with regular pruning it is possible to obtain a plant with a single stem and well-defined foliage. In addition to the fruit varieties, ornamental varieties are also cultivated in the garden, such as the twisted hazel, which has a smaller size than the fruit specimens, and extremely twisted and pendulous stems, with a decidedly pleasant effect. There are also varieties, ornamental or fruit, with leaves those purple.
The fruit, the hazelnut, is a drupe, contained in a rigid woody shell, in turn produced in the winter of papyrus bracts; when it is produced it is green in color and is confused between the leaves, typically hazelnuts are in groups of three or five fruits; when ripe the hazelnuts are brown, as the shell becomes woody. They are harvested between late summer and early autumn and are used for food; from the hazelnuts an oil is also obtained, used in the industry.
Grow the hazel
Being a typical plant also of the flora of our peninsula, cultivating a hazel in the garden is not at all complex, since it is a completely rustic plant, which adapts without problems even in conditions not completely suited to its development; despite this, the fruits are usually harvested only from plants that are cultivated in the best way, well vigorous and luxuriant.
They love sunny, or partially shady, positions in a fresh and deep soil, not necessarily fertile; It is important to ensure that the shrub has a very well drained soil, as excess moisture in the soil quickly causes rot that is very harmful to the plant's roots. Plants that have been at home for a long time tend to be satisfied with the water supplied by the weather, but if we want a good harvest of hazelnuts it is advisable to water them, at least sporadically, during the hottest and dryest periods of the year, avoiding excessive watering. The plants are pruned every year, in late winter or in autumn simply shortening the excessively long and ruined or thin branches, aerating the interior of the shrub, raising the intertwined branches. Periodically we rehash the stumps, eliminating at the base the oldest branches, to promote the development of new, more fruitful stems.
These plants are rustic, and do not fear frost; therefore they can find a place in the garden without any problem, even in areas characterized by very cold winters, with temperatures close to -15 ° C.
Every year, at the end of autumn, we dig at the foot of the manure stump, or earthworm humus, to improve soil fertility.
Hazelnuts are one of the richest fruits of vitamin E; in Italy they are typically cultivated in Piedmont, Sicily, Campania and Lazio, in each area of course a different variety is cultivated.
The edible part of this drupe is the oily seed that is found inside it, it is a very caloric food, as more than half is made up of oils; it is, however, of excellent quality oils, rich in good cholesterol; in addition to this, in general, dried fruit also contains fatty acids that promote blood circulation and the production of Omega3 by our body. Hazelnuts are therefore an important ally for our health, and some fruit, every day, inserted in the foods with which we have breakfast, can be a precious ally.
Unfortunately for us the dried fruit is also very caloric, and in the case of hazelnuts it is doubly, since most of the hazelnuts grown in Italy are then sold associated with chocolate, and therefore become a sort of caloric bomb. Simple hazelnuts are easily found, with or without shell, fresh, dried or toasted; 3-4 hazelnuts of this type can become a good ingredient to be mixed with breakfast cereals.
Hazelnuts are also used to prepare an oil, which can also be used for food purposes; it has a penetrating and sweet aroma and a light, straw-colored color. Its properties are remineralizing and revitalizing, and it is used in the industrial preparation of some foods, but also in cosmetics, where it is mixed in moisturizing and purifying creams, specific for impure skin.
This oil is readily available in herbal medicine; but often the particular oils do not always come from the simple pressing of the seeds, but have been obtained through chemical extraction processes. These processes can alter the composition of the oils, but also the taste. For this reason, if we intend to use hazelnut oil simply for daily facial cleansing, we can buy any hazelnut oil; if instead we intend to try hazelnut oil on our salad, we will need to buy a specific oil for the food. For example, the Piedmontese hazelnut consortium produces an IGP oil, specifically prepared for human consumption.
The Hazel: twisted hazel
One of the most interesting varieties of stone from an ornamental and gardening point of view is certainly the twisted stone. It is a plant much appreciated for its extraordinary aesthetic appearance, able to evoke a great sense of beauty thanks to its twisted branches and aged by time.
The twisted hazel it has an incredibly slow growth and looks very similar to that of a bonsai plant. Branches forced, twisted, twisted, capable of producing beautiful shapes and giving a very pleasant ornamental effect.
Both in summer with leaves, and in winter with only the branches, the twisted hazel manages to give value to the garden as to the balcony, where if combined with a vase or a particular flower bed it can create very pleasant effects.
Many of you who have already looked for this plant in the nursery will have noticed the almost always high price of twisted hazelnut specimens. The high figures are linked to the very slow growth of the specimens of this species, which even if they look like small wharves, may actually be in the nursery for many years.