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.
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.
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Flower Meanings Dictionary from A to Z
https://www.ancient-yew.org/map/ (Locations of ancient yews in the UK)
It’s True, Everything We Do, We Do it for Yew
Aspasía S. Bissas