Today, chemotherapy treatments use a chemical derived from the Western Yew. This important function of the Western Yew is threatened today as Western Yew populations continue to decline and harvesting of the species is widely prohibited. In its place, similar yew species are being collected for chemotherapy purposes. Yew species are also used in contemporary landscaping. The bright red berries add a nice complement to any landscape. (See photos.) In the past, Native peoples of North America used Western yews both for nourishment and medicinal purposes.
Native to the Pacific Northwest of North America. It ranges from southernmost Alaska south to central California, mostly in the Pacific Coast Ranges, but with an isolated disjunct population in southeast British Columbia and south to central Idaho. (According to Wikipedia Commons)
Evergreen shrub or small tree with fleshy, red berries. Grows most commonly in moist, shady sites. Can grow to 15 metres tall. See images below.
Please note that the Western Yew is a threatened species and harvesting of this species is likely prohibited in your area. However, in the past, The fleshy, red parts of the seed are said to be edible. EXTREME caution must be used in the consumption of western yew berries, as the inner seed is extremely poisonous, even fatal. The leaves are also very poisonous. Fifty leaves can cause death.
Please note that the Western Yew is a threatened species and harvesting of this species is likely prohibited in your area. Western yew is a source of the medical alkaloid, taxol, and is used in the production of cancer medication. (The chemotherapy drug paclitaxel, used in breast cancer, ovarian ,cancer and lung cancer treatment, is derived from the Western Yew.)
Please note that the Western Yew is a threatened species and harvesting of this species is likely prohibited in your area. In the past, Western yew wood is very good quality, and was used for bows, spears and arrows. Some historians believe that Robin Hood had a bow made of Yew.
The leaves, bark and seeds contain taxatine, a heart-depressing alkaloid that is extremely poisonous. AS FEW AS FIFTY NEEDLES CAN BE LETHAL! The poison levels increase significantly on branches that have already been cut. Remember that this article is no way is intended to offer medical advice; it is merely an interesting resource for those who would like to become more familiar with some useful plants.