hazel

Hazel is the plant that has most enthusiastically welcomed me to Europe. In my first days in Berlin, I took this photo and posted it on Facebook, asking if anyone knew what it was.

I quickly figured out for myself that it is Turkish Hazel: Corylus colurna. It’s a fairly common street tree here in Berlin. I was thrilled that the plant that had inspired my curiosity turned out to be one I already knew about, glad to meet it in person.

When I went to Ireland, I was looking forward to journeying to the spirit world and meeting some locals. Everyplace I went seemed to glow a little, and I could hear the call of spirits just beyond my range of hearing everywhere. It’s a well-worshipped place, where the magic of nature isn’t denied. I planned to find a nice place out in the woods somewhere and have a chat with whatever spirits wanted to meet me. When I came across this hazel thicket surrounding a flat-topped boulder, I knew I had found my spot. I lay down on the rock, closed my eyes and slipped into trance, curious.

Usually, when I call out to the spirit world, some entity comes to me – a person, an animal, something that’s not there with my eyes open. This was the first time it has happened to me that what came to meet me in the spirit world was exactly what was there in the material plane. The hazel surrounding me responded to my call. It reminded me that the material world is suffused with magic and that in places that are loved, there is no distinction between the realms. They match each other, like printer’s plates in perfect registration. The hazels gave me a blessing of peace. Enveloped and surrounded, I lay basking in the quiet, calm peace the grove offered me. When it released me and I came back into this world, everything glowed.
I walked a little farther and came upon a placard about hazel. It said that in the Celtic tradition, it is the tree of wisdom. The salmon of wisdom got so wise by eating hazelnuts. It said that it has been an important tree for millennia not just because of its delicious nuts, but because it responds to coppicing so well. You can cut it to the ground over and over, and it will send up tall, straight suckers that are ideal for building the homes that kept my ancestors warm and safe for centuries.

Hazelnuts had been on my list of foods that I felt I had an ancestral connection with for some time, but now I knew we had lived in homes made from it and cooked over fires it fueled. We tended and maintained the coppiced groves for generation upon generation. I smiled to myself as I watched a young man teach his sons how to open the nuts by smashing them carefully between two rocks, on a path in the woods of one of my ancestral homelands.

Then back home, having brunch at a sidewalk cafĂ© in Prenzlauerberg where I had first noticed hazel, I flipped to the “tea” section of the menu. The words “hazel leaf” jumped off that page at me. A tea blend of many flowers and the leaf from my new friend. I knew as soon as I saw the list of herbs in “Flower Meadow” tea that it played the same role here that I used pecan for in Texas – an astringent base to give body and depth to an otherwise ethereal flowery combination. I drank it in. My eminently useful new companion, my host and my protector, dear Hazel.

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