by Erin Harper, University of Illinois Extension
American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) are native eastern United States and Canada, from Manitoba south to Oklahoma and east to the coast (excluding only Florida). Corylus Americana prefers well-drained loam soils in full sun. However, like many of the native trees and shrubs, are tolerant of a wide range of moisture, pH, temperature, and sun.
The American Hazelnut is a shrub with a multi-stemmed base. The shrub will grow to a height of eight to 16 feet with a crown spanning three to four feet. The height of the plant is determined by the environmental conditions and the pollination from surrounding plants. Like many other native plants, the American Hazelnut will spread by underground rhizomes and form a hedgerow. The male catkins form in fall and overwinter. The flowers bloom in late winter (late February to early March) but are quite small and do not provide food for pollinators though they are a nice visual for late winter and the first sign of a spring to come. The American Hazelnut is wind-pollinated; therefore, a group of at least three plants is recommended.
The nuts form in clusters encased in a husk. As the nuts mature and then dry they fall to the ground in late September. The nut clusters should then be collected and the nuts removed from the husks. The trick is to get the nuts before the squirrels and deer find them. The nuts are also a food source for pheasants, grouse, turkeys, and other wildlife. The shrubs also provide shelter and nesting habitat for songbirds and small mammals. Once removed from the husks, the nuts can be stored in their shell for up to one year.
According to the USDA ARS, hazelnuts are rich in monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, copper, and magnesium. They are often used in cookies, candies, or sweet spreads. Most of the commercial production of hazelnuts uses the European hazelnut (Corylus avellane). The nuts on the European hazelnut are larger but the plants are not as hardy and may not survive Illinois winters or the plant diseases that exist in the Americas. The nuts can be eaten raw, ground into flour, cooked into soups or stir-fry, mixed into a pasta or quinoa dish, or toasted on top of a green salad.
The nuts need to removed from the shell. To make hazelnut flour, pulse hazelnuts in a blender. It will first form a meal (coarse ground nuts) which can be used to make a bread similar to cornbread or as breading on meats. Keep pulsing the meal to form a flour. Flour can be used to make cookies, pie crusts, or crackers. The hazelnuts are gluten-free so if cake or pastry is desired the hazelnut flour will need to be mixed with wheat flour. Be careful not to simply blend the hazelnuts. If the nuts warm-up, the oils will liquify and you will end up with hazelnut butter instead of flour. However, if you want to make hazelnut butter, roast the hazelnuts in the oven 12-15 minutes and then transfer immediately to a blender and blend into butter. You can add a little melted chocolate, a dash of vanilla, and a pinch of salt to get a lovely hazelnut chocolate spread.
This lovely hardy native plant provides wildlife habitats and produces a versatile nut that is delicious in savory or sweet dishes, whole, crushed, pulsed, or blended.
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Plant Guide: American Hazelnut Corylus Americana Walt. United States Department of Natural Resources Conservation Service. https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_coam3.pdf. Accessed 17 Sep 2020.