Yew – Taxus baccata

Yew
Yew

As early as 1021 Avicenna introduced Yew as a cardiac medicine in his The Canon of Medicine to be used as a cardiac remedy. In the central Himalayas it was used in cancer treatment of the breast and ovaries.

Yews were often used as ornamental tree. They can often be found in the courtyards of old churches throughout England, Ireland and France. In the past it was suggested they were planted as a symbol of long life or conversely the tree of death. The branches were often substituted for palm fronds on Palm Sunday.

The Yew is also associated with Great Britain due to the use of the wood in the long bows. The heartwood is placed to the inside of the bow, while the sapwood is placed to the outside. This takes advantage of the woods properties….the sapwood resists stretching and the heartwood resists compression….which increases the strength and efficiency of the bow!

Care should be taken when handling this plant as all parts, except the aril surrounding the seed is poisonous! The bright, red aril, being the only part not poisonous is edible! Symptoms of poisoning include staggering gait, muscle tremors, convulsions, collapse, difficulty breathing, coldness and eventually heart failure. However, death occurs so rapidly that many times the symptoms are missed. It take very large quantities to cause death in humans, so poisoning is rarely seen.

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