It is perhaps somewhat strange that the yew tree has become known over time as a symbol of eternal life, but also as a symbol of death. The latter is quite simple to explain. The poison of the needles, twigs and seeds, called taxine, is strong enough to kill the largest grazing animals. The European word ‘Giftbaum’ already indicates the poisonousness of the yew. However, the yew owes its esteem as a tree of eternal life mainly due to the fact that it can live more than a thousand years, but its healing powers also play an essential role.
The yew tree for the treatment of cancer
There are several varieties of yew and the healing powers of these yew varieties have actually not been known for that long. In the 1960s, the American scientist Monroe Wall, together with his Indian-American colleague Mansukh C. Wani, discovered that the bark of the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) contains substances that can be used to treat cancer, breast cancer and especially ovarian cancer. This substance is called Paclitaxel, but it is also known as Taxol. This substance is still used for chemotherapies nowadays. Paclitaxel ensures that no cell division takes place and thus the progression of the disease is blocked. Paclitaxel can even completely prevent the progression of the disease.
Because Pacific yew trees, which contain paclitaxel, were being cut down on a large scale at the time, there were many protests from environmental organizations in the United States. However, this massive logging became less so when it was discovered that these medicinal properties could also be produced semi-synthetically, from the needle extract of the common yew (Taxus baccata). This was also much better, because ten times more paclitaxel could be extracted from the common yew than from the North American variety. To this day, there is no efficient and affordable way to develop paclitaxel completely synthetically, and therefore the yew varieties growing in Western European gardens are still used as medicinal plants.
A life-saving yew hedge
So your yew hedge is not only a pretty way to make your garden more stylish and appealing; plant parts of the yew tree can in fact also save lives. Therefore, there are various institutes that gratefully accept the pruning waste from yew hedges at any time, in order to use it to conduct scientific research and advance the development of new anti-cancer drugs. You should really think about this the next time you are in your garden and cut back your yew hedge. It takes a cubic meter of these pruning cuttings to do a single chemotherapy treatment, so each of us can help a little. However, yews don’t grow that fast, so the pruning waste from this plant is also quite valuable.
Many garden owners plant a Taxus baccata in their garden because this variety of conifer looks particularly elegant. However, the Taxus baccata can also give back to people. So in this respect, the common yew is a unique plant. Click on contact if you should have any further questions.