Yew Tree Uses
Tree Healing Therapy
Botanical name Taxus baccata / Family Taxaceae
Often a churchyard sentinel of the dead, the yew is renowned for its longevity and may live for over 2,000 years. Native to western, central and southern Europe and to Asia Minor, it is a slow-growing evergreen, with flattened, needle-type, dark-green leaves. The female trees produce fruits that are modified seed cones. Most parts of the tree, including the leaves and bitter seeds, are poisonous.
History, mystery and spiritual healing The yew tree has many forms of spiritual meaning. In Georgia it is called the 'tree of life' and, when wounded, continually bleeds red sap. In Japan the yew species is connected with the creator gods who live on mountaintops. The Celts believed that yews contained the spirits of our ancestors, with their pagan myth crossing over into Norse mythology as the tree from which Odin hung himself until he saw the runes in its branches that gave him wisdom and purpose. This mirrors the Gnostic Bible's meaning of Jesus, the Great Mystic, bestowing the powers of yew, overseer of light and clairvoyance, to Mary and the disciples. The yew's poison works fast and is very effective; in his Gallic Wars Julius Caesar narrates that Catuvolcus, chief of the Eburones, poisoned himself with yew rather than submit to Rome. In England, Edward III (1312-77) made it compulsory for every able-bodied man to practise archery. The resultant use of yew for weaponry decimated the country's forests.
Anciently, yew was used for snake bites and rabies, obstructions of the liver and bilious complaints. Although extremely poisonous, the powdered leaves were used by herbalists for epilepsy. Clandestinely, despairing women used yew as an abortifacient to stimulate spasms in the womb.
As early as 1021 the Persian physician Avicenna introduced the phytotherapeutic use of yew in The Canon of Medicine. He called the herbal drug that he used as a cardiac remedy zarnab; it was the first known use of a calcium-channel blocker to decrease blood pressure, and did not reappear in widespread use in the Western world until the 1960s.
Shamans use yew to enhance magical and psychic abilities, and to induce visions. In conventional medicine, the precursors of commercial chemotherapy drugs can now be derived from the leaves of the European yew species, T. brevifolia.
Yew leaves and seeds are highly poisonous.