(Very Cautiously) Edible Tree of the Week: YEW

When I say ‘caution’ I mean the same caution that lovers of Japanese pufferfish fugu must exhibit while enjoying their meal. Do you trust your chef?!!

The only part of yew that you want to be eating is the aril, the fleshy red fruit that surrounds the black seed.

DO NOT EAT THE SEED WITHIN. Or the leaves, or the bark. Or the wood, should you have felt the urge. Yew, or Taxus baccata, contains the lethal alkaloid taxin, which causes cardiac arrest, coma, and, obviously, death. I recently read about a 39 year old idiot who made a bet with his friend and voluntarily drank a cup of yew needle tea. The only reason he didn’t die was the fact apart from every other heart stimulation the hospital could throw at him, they used the antidote to taxin. He was in a coma for weeks. (This just shows why there were less men than women cave people in the olden times).

Yew tree in All Saints churchyard

Yew grows in many churchyards and sites of antiquity. Some yews can be thousands of years old. The tree is roughly conical and has short (up to 4cm long and 3mm wide) flattened, needle shaped leaves which are evergreen. They are deep glossy green above and paler below, with dual pale yellow bands.

Yew timber was prized (and still is) for making longbows, which were powerful enough to puncture armour. They were made with a combination of the heartwood for strength and the sapwood for flexibility.

Yew bark is used by pharmaceutical companies to make Taxol, which is used in the treatment of breast and ovarian cancer. (Don’t try this at home).

So now I’ve told you all the bad bits, let’s go ahead and make Yew Berry Fugu Jam.

  1. Find a yew tree with berries…usually out from late Autumn to Winter.
  2. The trick is to separate the arils from the seeds, which is best done by hand with the blunt tine of a fork or other not too sharp object. DO NOT TRY AND BOIL OFF THE SEEDS -if you do this, there is a chance taxin may leach into your jam. Yew arils are very sweet and form a very gloopy goo, great if you are desperate for sugar.
  3. . Once you have got rid of all the seeds, add just enough water to cover and bring to a boil, then simmer until jam like consistency is achieved. This shouldn’t be too hard as like I said, the berries are very gloopy. Add mashed crab apple if you like, to help it set, though this will muddy the lovely pink colour.
  4. If it is too insipidly sweet (I’m not a huge fan of really sweet stuff!), add lemon juice to taste. Simmer again til jam consistency.
  5. Scoop into a pre sterilised jar (which you have boiled and dried for 5 plus minutes) Put a circle of greaseproof paper over the top of the yew jam to seal. Screw on the lid.
  6. Enjoy on sourdough bread with something sour like goat’s cheese. or freeze into ice cubes and make tropical tasting winter cocktails with rum. Wow friends at parties with your cutting edge risqué knowledge. Let people know first so they can make an informed decision! Just don’t kill anyone.

DISCLAIMER: The is risky foraging, only try it if you are paying attention and have got rid of ALL the seeds, needles etc. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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