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7 Common Uses for English Yew Trees

7 Common Uses for English Yew Trees

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Willie Moore
Latest posts by Willie Moore (see all)

English yew trees are known for their toxic beauty. These plants have various toxins in almost every limb, so how could you possibly use them for anything? You might be surprised that there are many unique projects you can take on if you have an English yew tree in your yard.

The most common uses for English yew trees include making instruments, bows, and other woodworking creations. You can also compost your English yew clippings for other plants, eat the fleshy portion of the berries, or plant bonsai trees. Some people donate their clippings to cancer research clinics.

In this article, we’ll explain the best uses you’ll get out of your English yew tree, including how you can avoid any of the unwanted toxic side effects.

1. Make Instruments With the Wood

If you’re a craftsman, you can make guitars, lutes, and many other instruments with English yew wood. In fact, it’s one of the best choices for instruments because of the following qualities:

  • Longevity: English yew wood is known for having a dense cellular structure, making it last several years without expanding too much.
  • Resonance: English yew wood resonates very well, which is essential for big-bodied instruments, such as acoustic guitars.
  • Flexibility: This wood flexes decently, making it a great choice for stringed instruments if you need to adjust the action and intonation.

English yew wood should be treated with water-resistant coats before and after designing instruments. While it’s quite tough, it can rot if it’s exposed to too much moisture.

2. Compost Your English Yew Clippings

English yew clippings, bark, and berries can be used in compost bins. Follow the steps below for the best results.

  1. Prune the English yew, then cut the clippings into one-foot (30.5 cm) segments.
  2. Toss all of the debris from the English yew into your compost bin, ensuring there aren’t any diseases, mildew, etc.
  3. Add a bit of dirt, then include dead leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and other sources of carbon and nitrogen to encourage decomposition.

While English yews are mostly toxic, these compounds are broken down through the multi-month decomposition process. They can safely be used throughout your garden once they’re converted into compost.

3. Create Bows and Arrow

English yew trees were used by Native Americans many centuries ago. They used these trees for medicinal purposes, but they also crafted bows and arrows to hunt with.

Much like the aforementioned instrument example, the flexibility and durability of English yew wood make it a prime candidate for hunting weapons.

Removing the bark, berries, and greenery from the English yew will make it much safer to work with. However, you should still wash your hands before and after handling it. Shave the bark off of the tree, then craft the bow and arrows for an at-home hunting project.

4. Yew Wood Is Great for Woodworking Projects

Whether you’re crafting chairs, skateboards, birdhouses, or anything in between, English yew wood can be your new go-to crafting supply. English yew wood can take up to three years to dry for woodworking purposes (source).

That being said, it’s one of the most flexible and durable materials you’ll find in your yard.

Another unique attribute that makes English yew trees great for woodworking is their hollow trunks. Many English yews have hollow cores that you can use to design candleholders and many other fun crafts around your house.

This plant comes in multiple shades, including purple tones, red, orange, brown, and many other mixtures within the wood.

5. The Berries Can Be Eaten With Caution

English yew trees are almost completely inedible. They’re loaded with toxins that can cause all sorts of unwanted side effects, which is why you should take extreme caution when eating berries. Contrary to popular belief, you can eat the fleshy part of the berry from your English yew tree (source).

Follow these guidelines if you want to taste the berries:

  • Never eat the seeds in the berries; they’re toxic and will make you feel awful.
  • Always wash the berries before eating them to remove potential toxins and debris.
  • Start with one berry to see how it reacts with your stomach.
  • Avoid consuming or touching any other part of the English yew tree before eating the berries (wash your hands if you do).
  • Make sure the plant is an English yew because not all yew berries can be eaten.

Note: Be cautious about consuming English yew berries. They’ve been eaten by Native Americans for a long time, but they need to be handled and prepared with care.

6. English Yews Are Used in Cancer Research

The University of Cambridge claims English yew cuttings are used to develop disease-fighting medicines (source). Drying and preparing the needles prevents the toxins from permeating the drugs.

You can donate your English yew clippings to various locations, but it’s important to call local departments beforehand. Very few hospitals are involved in the research process.

7. Plant a Bonsai Tree

English yews are some of the most common trees used to make bonsai trees. Interestingly enough, you can make a bonsai tree with almost any tree around. However, English yews offer quick growth, sturdy roots, and unique leaf structure, all of which make it a perfect choice for bonsai tree lovers.

All you have to do is take an English yew clipping and plant it in your bonsai tree pot. Make sure you use damp, nutrient-rich soil.

English yews need slow-draining soil to promote optimal growth without getting dehydrated. Pruning the bonsai tree and keeping it in a small bonsai pot will prevent it from outgrowing its container.

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