Culturally and Economically Important Nontimber Forest Products of Northern Maine
Beaked Hazelnut, Corylus cornuta
Other Names: Noisetier (French), malipokansimus (Maliseet), malipqwanj (Mi’kmaq)
"Hazelnuts are a very unique little cottage industry throughout the St John Valley. Many of the people would go and gather hazelnuts. Then they would put them beside the road in jars, which were of course leftover jelly jars, and they would sell hazelnuts through the late summer, early fall. That still occurs." -Tim Scott
"With hazelnuts, you’re fighting the squirrels. There are so many squirrels now, it’s a hard fight." -Vern Labbe
Beaked hazelnutis an important source of nutrition for wildlife and humans alike. Northern Mainers like the taste of them so much that they go to great lengths to collect some nuts before other animals lay claim to the entire crop. Although many people gather hazelnuts just for personal use, some supplement their incomes by selling cleaned nuts at roadside stands.
Physical Description: Beaked hazelnut is a thicket-forming shrub reaching heights of 12-15 feet. The twigs are light brown, and the current-year growth is covered in long hairs. Rounded leaves have a heart-shaped base and doubly-serrate margin, and terminate in a pointed tip. Both male flowers (catkins) and female flowers appear on the same plant. Female flowers are located at branch tips and are pollinated in early spring. Nuts follow later in the season, in clusters of two and three. The common name “beaked hazelnut” comes from the two long, green, tubular bracts that cover maturing nuts.
Habitat: Open woodlands, roadsides, forest edges,and around railroad tracks. Although hazelnut trees can tolerate shade, they need light to flourish and produce nuts. In the words of one interviewee:
"Hazelnuts need an open canopy. Essentially they need some light, more than is normal. So, they would be very few and far between in a climax forest. My forest works great for them because I keep it [open], you know, it’s a working forest."
Uses: Beaked hazelnut is collected and eaten by many northern Maine residents in the fall.
Preparation: Extracting hazelnuts from their casings can be a challenge. Nuts are covered in green, prickly bracts that exude a sticky liquid when crushed. Several interviewees recommend waiting until the outside begins to turn brown, when the nuts peel more easily. Faye Hafford recalls the way that many people get hazelnuts out of their shells:
"Ordinarily, what they do is they put them in a sack and pound them against a rock or something ‘til a lot of that casing on the outside that’s green...comes out. [The casing] has a juice in it, and also, it’s got little thistles. It goes in your hand, it’s hard on your fingers, and when you get done, your fingers are black. You better use gloves. But that’s what they do. They pound them, hit [them] and that stuff loosens up and comes off easier."
Another interviewee offered an alternative method to extract hazelnuts:
"The proper way to open [hazelnuts] is on the pointed end, with a pocket knife. You cut off that little pointed end until you just expose the nut meat inside. Put your knife point into that and twist it, and it will pop open in half, and you’ll get the nut meat out whole."
Once the nuts are out, many people we spoke with like to salt and roast them before eating.
When to harvest: Hazelnuts produce mast cyclically, and interviewees believe that they produce more dependably than beech trees. Hazelnuts become ripe in late August through September. The main challenge in harvesting hazelnuts is getting to them before squirrels and other animals do. To avoid this almost losing battle, some gatherers choose to harvest hazelnuts a week early and ripen them off the bush. Others prefer to wait to harvest until after a frost because they think the hazelnuts taste sweeter.
Tips for Sustainable Harvesting/Management: Harvest in moderation. Beaked hazelnuts are high in fat and protein, making them an important source of food for squirrels, chipmunks, and a variety of bird species.
Photos by Michelle Baumflek
Last Modified: 05/24/2010