Hazels or filberts are shrub-sized woody plants in the birch family (Betulaceae) found in temperate forests of North America and Eurasia. Hazels have simple, coarse-toothed, hairy leaves that are deciduous in the autumn.
Hazel species native to North America include the American hazel (Corylus americana) of the east and beaked hazel (C. cornuta) of a wider distribution. The giant filbert (C. maxima) is a European species that is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental.
The nuts of all of the wild hazels can be gathered and eaten raw or roasted. The hazel or cobnut (C. avellana) of Eurasia is grown commercially in orchards for the production of its fruits. These nuts can be eaten directly, or their oil may be extracted for use in the manufacture of perfumes and oil-based paints.
Y-shaped, forked branches of various species of hazel have long been used to find underground water by a folk method known as dowsing, or water witching. The dowser walks slowly about holding two ends of the Y in his or her hands. The place where the free end of the dowsing rod is attracted mysteriously downwards is believed to be a good location to dig or drill a well. One of the common names of the American hazel is witch hazel and is presumably derived from the use of the species to find accessible groundwater.
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