Yew-Tree, the Common, or Taxus baccata, L. a native of Britain, and other parts of Europe, as well as of America: it grows in mountainous woods, hedges, and rocky soils; producing its flowers in March or April, which are succeeded by bright-red, soft, oblong berries, containing a mucilaginous white juice, and arriving at perfection in September.
The yew-tree thrives most luxuriantly in a moist, loamy soil: it may be propagated by sowing the ripe berries in autumn, in a shady bed of fresh earth, and covering them to the depth of half an inch, with similar mould; when the young plants appear, they ought to be carefully weeded, and occasionally watered in dry seasons. -In this situation, they must remain for two years ; after which they ought to be removed, in the month of October, into beds of unma-nured soil, at the distance of six inches from each other, and in rows one foot asunder; being gently watered till they have taken root. Here the plants should again continue for two years ; at the expiration of which, they must be transplanted, in autumn, into a nursery, and placed 18 inches from each other, in rows three feet apart. When the young trees have stood three or four years in the nursery, it will be advisable to set them, in September, or October, in dry ground; and, at length, in the subsequent spring, to place them id cold, moist situations, where they are designed to remain. - The period of their growth is computed at 100 years ; and their duration in the ground, at four centuries.
Formerly, the yew-tree was cultivated, in Britain, chiefly for the manufacture of bows; but, since these implements of war have been superseded by fire-arms, it is ge nerally raised as an ornament to parks and plantations, on account its ever-green leaves. This useful tree admits at being frequently pruned; and may be made to assume any particular figure: hence the gardens of our forefathers were filled with ships, birds, quadrupeds, men, and other vegetable monsters. But such absurd fancies are gradually disappearing; a more natural system of horticulture is making rapid progress; and the yew is at present advantageously planted in hedges, as a fence for orchards and shrubberies, against severe winds.
The wood of this tree is hard and smooth; beautifully veined with red streaks; admits of a fine polish; and is almost incorruptible: hence it is advantageously employ-ed by turners and cabinet-makers, for manufacturing spoons, cups, as well as tables, chairs, and various other articles. It is also usefully converted into cogs for mill-wheels, axle-trees, flood-gates for fish ponds; and may perhaps be effectually substituted for box ; so that considerable sums of money might be annually saved, which are now exported to the Levant, in order to supply engravers, and other artists, with that wood.
The red berries of the yew-tree have a sweetish taste, and abound with mucilage :they are not only devoured by hogs and birds, without any pernicious effects resulting from them, but are also frequently eaten with impunity by children ; though, in some persons, this fruit is apt to produce noxious effects, especially if the stones be swal-lowed. We are, nevertheless, persuaded, that a very copious and strong spirit may be easily ed from these berries, by distillation; and that their conversion to this purpose might annually save many thousand bushels of grain, which are unnecessarily wasted in the still, while the abundant vegetable productions of the woods, hedges, and commons, are suffered to decay, or are heedlessly left to become a prey to wild birds, and other animals. - See also Spirits, p. 118.
The leaves of the yew-tree are reputed to be poisonous to the human species, as well as to cattle of every description. Attempts, however, have lately been made, to employ them for feeding , in times of scarcity; and, if our account be accurate, we have read in some recent publication, that such were given to those animals with perfect safety, when cut together with hay or straw, so as use, at first, only the tenth or twentieth part of this foliage, and gra-ititalhj to increase the proportion of the latter, and to reduce that of the former, to one-half, or even a smaller quantity. Thus, it appears to be perfectly consistent with reason and analogy, that the oily and astringent principle of the yew-tree leaves may be corrected, by sheathing it with a large portion of balsamic hay, and absorbent straw ; yet we cannot, on this occasion, speak from positive experience - According to agricultural writers, the loppings and lark of this tree are equally pernicious to cattle, especially when in a half-dried state; several sprigs having been found in the stomachs of animals, entire, or undigest-ed. - It is, however, an erroneous position, which still prevails in some country places, that the shade of its foliage is hurtful animal life.
On the other hand, Bechstein informs us, that the wood of the yew-tree, when reduced to powder by a file, mixed with paste, and baked in an oven, has been highly extolled in Germany, as a sovereign remedy for the bite of a mad dog : it is, therefore, taken in doses of half an ounce.
Dambourney observes, that a decoction of yew-tree berries imparts a handsome chamois-dye to wool previously immersed in a weak solution of bismuth. - On boiling the red root of this tree, together with the bark of the common birch-tree, he obtained a beautiful cinnamon colour, with a mor-dore tint; but the wool was first boiled for a considerable time in a solution of tin: and, by adding alum, the dye assumed an aurora, or bright-red colour.