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American Yew (Taxus canadensis) is an evergreen plant belonging to the Taxaceae family. They are known to be poisonous if any part of the plant is ingested. But what happens if you touch the plant?
American Yew trees are not poisonous to touch. Touching the surface of American Yew plants with bare hands will not garner much of a reaction unless you have very sensitive skin. In some instances, however, the plant scratching and penetrating the skin can cause skin irritation.
This article will elaborate on the toxicity of the American Yew, how it works, what effects it has on people, and what you should do if you are affected by the toxins in it.
What Happens if You Touch an American Yew?
No instances of American Yew poisoning by merely touching the plant have been reported or documented.
As a matter of fact, you can find many videos on YouTube in which people touch the plant with no gloves or other form of protection over their hands and don’t have any reaction whatsoever (source). Based on such videos, it’s easy to assume that American Yew is not poisonous to touch.
On a more scientific note, the American Yews are toxic due to the presence of taxines in them. Taxines are poisonous chemicals that can be found in all species of Yew (source).
These toxins’ mechanism of action is primarily systemic and known to affect cardiovascular functions.
Touching yew trees isn’t enough to trigger a reaction, but if your skin gets cut and enough toxins from the tree bark get into your bloodstream, then you might exhibit the typical symptoms associated with American Yew poisoning.
What Can Cause You To Get American Yew Poisoning?
Different types of taxines (A and B) and other types of toxic substances are present in varying concentrations in various parts of an American Yew tree.
Various Yew species may also contain different concentrations of toxic substances, making some of them more dangerous than others. For example, Taxus Baccata is more poisonous than Taxus Canadensis (source).
Since the presence of toxins in an American Yew plant isn’t limited to its bark, there are other ways to get poisoned by American Yew besides getting scratched.
All parts of the American Yew plant except its berries are highly toxic for humans and domestic animals (source).
However, the seeds are highly toxic, so an excessive intake of its berries and the accidental ingestion of parts of the seed can cause poisoning and severely affect health.
Ingestion of parts of the American Yew plant can result in the following symptoms:
These symptoms show that ingesting any part of the plant, except for the flesh of the berries, can result in severe adverse reactions and can even be lethal for humans (source).
When it comes to animals, horses are the most common victims of American Yew poisoning. Most domestic animals die within 2-3 hours of ingesting the plant.
The symptoms observed in the animals that end up eating any part of the shrub include diarrhea, vomiting, slow heart rate, incoordination, convulsions, etc. (source).
To prevent any untoward instances involving American Yew plants from happening, certain precautions need to be taken.
- Special care should be taken in a household with children, pets, or domesticated animals to prevent mishaps. If possible, remove the plant from the premises of your home altogether.
- Avoid using kitchen utensils, such as spoons and spatulas, made from American Yew wood, as the toxins in the wood can leach into your food and cause food poisoning.
As far as American Yews are concerned, there is no such thing as too much caution. While pruning, sawing, or removing an American Yew plant, you risk inhaling small solid and liquid particles flying off the plant.
Once they enter your system, they might bring out an adverse reaction. While this effect may not be as significant due to the lesser amount of toxins entering your system, inhaling these particles will still likely cause an uncomfortable reaction in your body.
To prevent this from happening, wear safety gear such as masks, goggles, and gloves while handling American Yew.
What To Do If You Get Poisoned by American Yew?
It is best to refrain from ingesting any unknown plants. That being said, if you still find yourself dealing with someone with American Yew poisoning, you must gather basic medical information about the patient. It can be a lifesaver if you know how much of the plant they have ingested and the time of said ingestion.
You should quickly call for an ambulance to rush the patient to the emergency room. While on the phone, waiting for the ambulance, share the information you’ve collected with the medical staff and perform the first-aid methods (if any) they’ll recommend.
Inform the medical staff of symptoms, including the following:
- Breathing difficulty
In the Emergency Room, the patient may be put on oxygen support and receive IV fluids. Besides this, they may undergo chest x-rays and ECGs and get blood and urine tests done.
After this, they will be given proper medication to help with recovery. If the treatment is received on time, the symptoms start receding within 1-3 days (source).
Medical Benefits of the Poisonous Nature of American Yew
While American Yew is poisonous, it has been used by native people for centuries to cure issues such as tapeworms and swollen tonsils, even though there is little to no scientific evidence to prove these medicines’ effectiveness (source).
Since the data to back up the plant’s medicinal properties are outweighed by the risks involved, it is better to err on the side of caution and not use American Yew as a medicine, especially when using raw materials.
On the other hand, scientific and pharmacological studies have widely researched the appropriate ways to extract and isolate beneficial chemicals in the American Yew for the treatment of cancer and other diseases (source).
These extracts are currently used to make prescription drugs for diseases such as cancer, kidney problems, and liver problems.
American Yew is a coniferous evergreen shrub that grows in the Northern parts of America. It comes from the Taxaceae family of plants, which is notorious for being poisonous.
Only touching the American Yew plant does no harm to a human being. However, there are other ways in which this plant can poison you. These include getting scratched deeply by the plant’s bark, ingesting any part of the plant, and inhaling tiny particles from the plant during sawing or cutting.