Canadian Yew – Taxus Canadensis: Heartstopper of Not So Edible & Medicinal Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, ne’bagandag’ meaning “it is one-sided”. Yew is an important shrub to know if you’re going to forage conifers. It’s trendy to make teas out of evergreens like spruce or cedar, but just a cupful of fresh yew leaves can actually kill you. While parts of yew have been used both for edible and medicinal purposes, most of the plant is highly toxic.

Canadian yew (taxus canadensis) is the main yew around Haliburton, Ontario. A common yew was also noted on iNat. Yew is fairy common in low clearings in mixed woods and on wooded slopes. There’s a massive one on a wooded rocky outcrop along the highway near the 100 acre. It may also be found in swampy woods, riverbanks and lakeshores too.

Sometimes it is called American yew or ground-hemlock. Being able to tell it apart from the likes of fir, hemlock, pine, spruce, and other conifers is important if you’re intending to forage.

Canadian Yew - Taxus Canadensis
Canadian Yew – Taxus Canadensis

Edible Uses of Canadian Yew

Only the fleshy part of red fruit is edible, but the seeds and leaves are lethally poisonous. Very few people try the red flesh and I wouldn’t recommend it. Best leave those bittersweet slimy berries for the moose!

Medicinal Uses of Canadian Yew

Canadian Yew is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • X

Medicinal tags include X. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the bark of western yew as the original source of the anticancer drug Taxol. The western plant population was depleted due to the demand for this drug. So, nowadays the drug is extracted from Canada yew and semi-synthesized. Something to consider when influencers try to make synthetic a dirty word. Synthesizing sure beats wiping a plant out of existence.

While you might see small doses have been used for this or that, never use yew for self medication. It slows down the heart even in small amounts and taxine can actually stop the heart. Drinking the tea or eating as few as 50 leaves can be lethal. I’m not going to add medicinal tags to this entry out of precaution.

Alternative Uses of Canada Yew

A green dye can be obtained from the leaves.

Deep orange-reddish yew wood can be used for woodworking projects, including furniture and musical instruments. However, our local yews are shrubby.

Canadian Yew - Taxus Canadensis
Canadian Yew – Taxus Canadensis

Growing Taxus Canadensis

Yew is a gorgeous ornamental shrub. Beware if berry-picking young children will be around unsupervised. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful native plant for the local wildlife including birds and moose.

It’s best to plant yew after the last spring frost, on a cloudy day, and make sure to keep the plant from drying out. They can handle any soil but prefer well-drained, sandy soil. They are versatile as per sun exposure.


One of the most poisonous plants in our area!

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

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