The Yew Tree – Natures Deadly Toxic Plant, That Turned out to be a Healer

The past couple of years has shown us the importance of medical research – coming up with new treatments for Covid-19 as well as vaccinations has helped to save many lives as well as getting us back to a much more normal life.

Research is something that is important for dealing with all illnesses, not just Covid-19. Things like these paid clinical trials help doctors and scientists to find out more about certain illnesses – from what causes them, to how they can best be treated.

Many drugs and treatments can then be made that can help someone who is ill and save their life. A lot of these drugs are actually found in nature and come from various plants that contain certain chemicals which can be then used to combat illnesses. However, these must be tested by scientists first, and it is strongly advised not to go out and start picking plants and consuming them, especially as many of these can be toxic in the wrong doses – plants like foxglove and deadly nightshade both have various healing powers, but can also be deadly for example, so never just go out and consume these without the advice of a doctor!

One of these surprising plants that is used to cure, but is also known to be highly toxic is the yew tree. Yew trees have long had a link to death. They grow around graveyards, live for thousands of years and are known to be toxic – from the bark to the fumes from burning. However, there are chemicals in the yew tree that are now used to treat one of the most deadly illnesses – cancer.

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The trees chemicals that fight cancer are known as taxanes (named after the Latin name of the European Yew Tree, Taxus baccata). They are indeed toxic in the wrong dose or when consumed without medical guidance as they disrupt and inhibit the process of cell division inside the body. However, when it comes to treating cancer, this is exactly what is required – cancer cells can be stopped in their tracks when taxanes are introduced, which can then stop it from spreading as the cells cannot divide and reproduce.

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In the Spring and Summer months of the year, clippings are taken from the Yew trees to make chemotherapy drugs with. The drug is named after the substance and is named Taxotere. It is used to treat various cancers, such as prostate and breast cancer. It is also a great resource to have, as the clippings from these trees can be taken each year, and with millions of Yew trees all over the British Isles it is something that we will always be fortunate to have a supply of, as well as proving a great renewable resource.

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