The yew tree can kill you. All species contain highly poisonous alkaloids known as taxanes. Its yew berries are edible and sweet, but the seeds are dangerously toxic and must be removed before eaten. Birds can eat them, but we cannot, our stomachs break down the seed coat and release their taxanes into our bodies.
The name yew is common to various species of trees but is most prominently given to any of the various coniferous trees and shrubs in the genus Taxus: European yew or common yew (Taxus baccata) Pacific yew or western yew (Taxus brevifolia)
It is sometimes called the tree of the dead due to its poisonous nature, and was sometimes planted in church graveyards in the past to keep the cows out. It worked becuase the tree’s leaves are more toxic than the seed.
Symptoms of yew poisoning include an accelerated heart rate, muscle tremors, convulsions, collapse, difficulty breathing, circulation impairment, and, eventually, cardiac arrest.
But It’s not all bad. The yew’s wood is good for making bows and spears. One of the oldest man-made weapons in the northern hemisphere is a spear made from yew.
It is also a slow-burning wood that produces a good level of heat.
Medically, cancer drugs from the bark of the Pacific yew tree have been used to expand treatment options for patients with breast and ovarian cancers.
In America, the Pacific Yew is found in the west coast states and Alaska. It grows between 20-40 feet, occasionally up to 75, 1-2 feet in diameter. The Bark is reddish-purple and flakes off in irregular, thin patches.
And in Florida the yew is a small, bushy tree or shrub usually less than 15ft tall but sometimes up to 25ft. It has a short trunk with numerous stout, horizontal, spreading branches. The purplish-brown bark is smooth when young, becoming separated into thin, irregular scales with age.
Throughout history, the yew has been a treasured resource, so what’s wrong with yew? Nothing, as long as you know how to use it.