Vampire’s Garden: Yew

Vampire's Garden: Yew, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, Gardening, history, mythology, crafts, folklore, yew, taxus baccata, poisonous plants, toxic plants, dangerous plants, sacred tree, sacred trees, Fortingall yew, vampire, vampires
Photo by Julia Filirovska on

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained when she was still human, she continues to study plants and have a garden. This post is fifteenth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.

Caution: All parts (except the flesh of the berries) are poisonous: do not ingest. The berries contain poisonous seeds. Even dead and dried parts of the tree are poisonous. Toxins can also be inhaled or absorbed through the skin: handle carefully. Yew is also toxic to many animals: keep away from pets and livestock. There is no antidote to yew poisoning, although there are drugs that can help in recovery. If you suspect yew poisoning, seek medical attention immediately.

Caution 2: Male trees produce copious pollen that is highly allergenic. Keep windows closed to help prevent allergic reactions, and try to stay away from yew trees in spring. While the pollen also contains toxins, they’re in low enough doses that it won’t poison you (it might be hallucinogenic, though, and standing in the pollen on a hot day can “shift consciousness”).

Botanical Name: Taxus baccata

Common Names: Common yew, English yew, European yew

History: Native to western, central, and southern Europe, and parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, yews have existed since the Triassic period, about 250 million years ago. Despite being toxic, yews are considered sacred in many cultures throughout history, including in Ireland, where it (known as Eó Ruis) is considered one of 5 Sacred Trees. The Norse tree Yggdrasil was likely a yew (early interpretations may have mistakenly identified it as an ash). Because of their blood red sap, some Christians believe the tree is bleeding in sympathy with Jesus. Yew trees are commonly found in churchyards in the UK, although there is no definitive reason why (possibilities range from churches being built near yews to help convert pagans, to the trees being a symbol for death and resurrection, to yews being planted to discourage farmers from letting their livestock graze on church lands). Yews are long lived: The Fortingall Yew in Scotland is believed to be somewhere between 2000 and 9000 years old (ring counts can’t be done with yews due to the way they grow). Because of this, and the tree’s ability to repeatedly regenerate, the yew is also known as the tree of immortality. Because of its toxicity, arrow tips were once coated in yew to make them extra lethal. That same toxicity has been put to good use more recently in chemotherapy drugs.

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Sorrow


Zones 5 to 7. Perennial. A shade-tolerant evergreen, yew grows in almost any soil as long as it’s not water logged. Make sure to plant it in well draining soil to prevent root rot. It prefers a moderate amount of moisture, but it can tolerate short periods of drought. Although it can grow in shade, growth is healthier when it gets a few hours of sunlight a day. Yew is tolerant of cold, heat, and urban pollution, but keep it sheltered from strong winter winds. Too much rubbing on the bark (such as from children climbing it) can kill it over time. Yew appreciates yearly fertilizing in spring, along with a layer of mulch or compost. Yew is slow growing, taking about 20 years to grow 4.5 m (15 feet) tall. When mature it can reach 20 m (65 feet) tall.


Woodworking: Described as one of the hardest softwoods, yew is ideal for a number of projects, from bows to musical instruments to furniture and flooring. It also has interesting and attractive burls. The sawdust is toxic so wear a mask when working with yew wood.

Here’s a short video of a longbow being made from yew:

Ornamental: Yews make good hedges and topiary, and because it is slow growing it doesn’t need frequent trimming (only about once a year).

Bonsai: Yew is a popular choice for bonsai.

Wildlife: Birds including waxwings, thrushes, and finches eat the berries and seeds. The dense foliage provides protection and nesting opportunities for them too. Small mammals, such as squirrels and dormice also eat the berries. The leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of the satin beauty moth.

Mara’s Uses:

In Love Lies Bleeding, when Mara is listing possible plants to experiment with, she mentions that “yew bleeds.” Between its blood-like sap and its association with immortality, yew would be an important potential ingredient in Mara’s herbal blood substitute.

Further Reading:

Aspasia S. Bissas books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw, book, books, free book, free books, freebies, freebie, free ebook, free ebooks, vampire, vampires, dark fantasy, dark romance, historical fiction, gothic fiction, gothic fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, horror, dark reads, indie author, indie fiction, strong female protagonist,

Love Lies Bleeding: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer paperback, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Flower Meanings Dictionary from A to Z (Locations of ancient yews in the UK)

Yew Tree Folklore


Woodland Trust: Yew

How to Grow and Care for Yew

Yew: The Hedgerow Poisoner

It’s True, Everything We Do, We Do it for Yew


Aspasía S. Bissas


13 Replies to “Vampire’s Garden: Yew”

  1. I wonder if the yew is considered sacred because it IS so poisonous! 🤔 I recently learned there is a folklore tradition in South Yorkshire (where I’m from, originally), England, about it being unlucky to bring any part of the yew indoors…. Most likely because of its poisonous qualities.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol that never hurts 😉 But on a serious note, a plant that can heal, kill, and give visions has all the hallmarks of an association with the Gods/the spirit world. I wish I could go back in time just to observe how relationships formed between humans and certain plants.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Absolutely! And because of these associations we can see why they were considered sacred in the first place.
        I know right? I’m guessing it was a lot of trial and error…. However I think there’s something to be said with having the ability to communicate with the spirits of these beings that might have helped. At a wild stab in the dark there. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I agree. I think early people had a much closer relationship to the natural/spirit world. It probably helped not to have half the people around them telling them they were evil or delusional.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. He doesn’t chew on ones like that, thank goodness. Although he did once puke up a whole sprig of mint. 🤣🤣🤣

        Liked by 1 person

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