There are two significant problems with picking hazelnuts here in NW Ontario. Finding them and picking them before the critters eat them all.
On a recent walk down a trail to a lake, I have visited many times; I realized it was lined with hazelnut trees. Rich with hazelnuts in an area, I have picked many berries and mushrooms but has never noticed the hazelnuts.
We have beaked hazelnuts in this area; they grow throughout northwest Ontario along trails, bush roads, lakeshores, backyards. Typically hazelnut shrubs look like every other shrub in the bush which makes them kind of hard to notice. The distinctive shape of the nut itself makes them much easier to find.
The outer shell of the hazelnut is covered in little spines. It is recommended you wear gloves when picking and handling the hazelnuts with the outer shell still intact.
Now when do pick hazelnuts? Much like waiting on an avocado to ripen, if you wait until the tiny window when the nuts ripen and start to fall from the tree – you will miss it. The critters will pillage a tree in minutes, have super senses and a lot of free time. There is a window of a week or two where the inner nut is hardened, and the outer shell is still green, usually in mid to late August. This is your opportunity, pick one, peel off the outer shell. If the inner nut is brown and hardening, its time and those critters will be the ones disappointed.
Pick the green hazelnuts, with gloves on, then put them in a dry, well-ventilated area and let the outer shell turn brown and peel back from the nuts on its own. Shuffling them around every day or two will help the process. When you can freely remove the outer covering from the brown hazelnut inside (using gloves) then do so. Store the husked hazelnuts in a dry well-ventilated area, and they will harden and be ready to eat.
Foraging Plant information list
This is not a complete list, this is a list of the species I have directly witnessed in my travels here in Northwest Ontario. If you find something before I do, email me and let me know.
Where to look
Along roadsides, trails, old logging roads, creek/river shorelines.