Recently I posted a blog talking about the history of yew and its use in medicine but I didn’t complete the story
This remarkable tree, the Yew in the Central Himalayas, is used as a treatment for breast and ovarian cancer. But western medicine in order to satisfy their criteria had to find a way of isolating the drug from the natural source.
Pacific yew’s bark were first collected in 1962 by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) who were under contract to NCI to find natural products that might cure cancer.
When this was found to be a potential anti-cancer drug there was outcry from the environmentalists including Al Gore as when collecting the bark this led to destruction of the tree.It was then found that the leaves of European yew (Taxus Baccata)were also an appropriate source which is a more renewable source than the bark of the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia). This ended a point of conflict in the early 1990’s. Docetaxel (another taxane) can then be obtained by semi-synthetic conversion from the precursors.
The precursors of chemotherapy drug Paclitaxel can be derived from the leaves or needles of the European Yew Taxus Baccata
Paclitaxel is a chemotherapy drug. It is also known by its original brand name, Taxol. The drug is made from the needles of a particular type of yew tree. It works by stopping cancer cells separating into two new cells, so it blocks the growth of the cancer. It is a treatment for various types of cancer, including
Non small cell lung cancer.
AIDS related Kaposi’s sarcoma
We know that clippings from the Hampton Court Yews have already been used along with those from many other sources to help many hundreds of cancer patients. However it is my opinion that we need to be clear about the exact location of the batches of clipping that are used. At Hampton Court there are also avenues of yews, which are more important a source of origin than a yew hedge or maze. This is because yews in an avenue can be more readily identified as being female or male and, if it is not already becoming apparent in taxol research, it will become increasingly important to separate clippings into their gender origin. At present such attention is not given in the collection of clippings and if gathered from hedges or mazes, which are also to be found at Hampton Court, then the task of establishing gender is extremely difficult as both sexes of the yew grow so close to each other in such environments. Thus the yew avenue offers a better chance of gender selection at the outset and consequently vastly improves further research potential.
But how can you help?
If you or someone you know has a Yew hedge or tree the annual clippings can be used to produce this important anti-cancer medicine. When I lived in Isleworth those of us who had Yew trees/ hedges did this each year.
Lime hurst Ltd offer cut-and-collect service for Yew clippings ( tel : +44(0)1243 555110. )http://limehurst.co.uk/v2/
Limehurst are involved in the harvesting and processing of medicinal & cosmetic plants and have been collecting Yew hedge clippings in the UK since 1992 for use as a cancer treatment.
Another organisation offering similar service is Friendship Estates
Between July and September his company come and collect the clippings of one years hedge growth , which are then used as raw material for the production of ant- cancer drugs