Herb: Yew


Latin name: Taxus baccata


Family: Taxaceae (Yew Family)



Medicinal use of Yew:

The yew tree is a highly toxic plant that has occasionally been used medicinally, mainly in the treatment of chest complaints. Modern research has shown that the plants contain the substance "taxol" in their shoots. Taxol has shown exciting potential as an anti-cancer drug, particularly in the treatment of ovarian cancers. Unfortunately, the concentrations of taxol in this species are too low to be of much value commercially, though it is being used for research purposes. This remedy should be used with great caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. See also the notes above on toxicity. All parts of the plant, except the fleshy fruit, are antispasmodic, cardiotonic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, narcotic and purgative. The leaves have been used internally in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, hiccup, indigestion, rheumatism and epilepsy. Externally, the leaves have been used in a steam bath as a treatment for rheumatism. A homeopathic remedy is made from the young shoots and the berries. It is used in the treatment of many diseases including cystitis, eruptions, headaches, heart and kidney problems, rheumatism etc.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Evergreen
Tree

Height:
15 m
(49 feet)

Flovering:
March
to April

Habitat of the herb:

Woods and scrub, usually on limestone. It sometimes forms pure stands in sheltered sites on chalk in the south-east and on limestone in the north-west.

Edible parts of Yew:

Fruit - raw. Very sweet and gelatinous, most people find it delicious though some find it sickly. A number of people who like the flavour do not like the texture which is often described as being "snotty". All other parts of this plant, including the seed, are highly poisonous. When eating the fruit you should spit out the large seed found in the fruit's centre. Should you swallow the whole seed it will just pass straight through you without harm. If it is bitten into, however, you will notice a very bitter flavour and the seed should immediately be spat out or it could cause some problems. The fruit is a fleshy berry about 10mm in diameter and containing a single seed. Some reports suggest using the bark as a tea substitute, this would probably be very unwise.

Other uses of the herb:

Very tolerant of trimming, this plant makes an excellent hedge. The plants are often used in topiary and even when fairly old, the trees can be cut back into old wood and will resprout. One report says that trees up to 1000 years old respond well to trimming. A decoction of the leaves is used as an insecticide. Some cultivars can be grown as a ground cover when planted about 1 metre or more apart each way. "Repandens" has been recommended. Wood - heavy, hard, durable, elastic, takes a good polish but requires long seasoning. Highly esteemed by cabinet makers, it is also used for bows, tool handles etc. It makes a good firewood. The wood is burnt as an incense.

Propagation of Yew:

Seed - can be very slow to germinate, often taking 2 or more years. It is best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn when it should germinate 18 months later. Stored seed may take 2 years or more to germinate. 4 months warm followed by 4 months cold stratification may help reduce the germination time. Harvesting the seed "green" (when fully developed but before it has dried on the plant) and then sowing it immediately has not been found to reduce the germination time because the inhibiting factors develop too early. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots once they are large enough to handle and grow them on in pots in a cold frame. The seedlings are very slow-growing and will probably require at least 2 years of pot cultivation before being large enough to plant out. Any planting out is best done in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe terminal shoots, 5 - 8cm long, July/August in a shaded frame. Should root by late September but leave them in the frame over winter and plant out in late spring. High percentage. Cuttings of ripe terminal shoots, taken in winter after a hard frost, in a shaded frame.

Cultivation of the herb:

Woods and scrub, usually on limestone. It sometimes forms pure stands in sheltered sites on chalk in the south-east and on limestone in the north-west.

Known hazards of Taxus baccata:

All parts of the plant, except the flesh of the fruit, are highly poisonous, having a paralyzing affect on the heart.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.