Botany - The Pacific Yew
Taxusbrevifolia is a species of Yew tree native to western North America. It is commonly referred to as the Western Yew, Pacific Yew or Montana Yew. The Pacific Yew, like other forms of yew, belongs to the botanical family Taxaceae, which is a small family with one main genus
Taxus brevifolia is found primarily in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States in the areas of Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
The remedy was made from the Montana Yew. Its typical growth habit is a bushy, shrub-type tree generally reaching ten to fifteen feet in height with an almost equal spread. It grows best on northerly slopes at elevations of 3,000 to 7,000 feet, preferring a canopy of mature timber.
The leaves consist of linear, flat, slightly sickle-shaped needles forming two comb-like ranks along the stem. Leaves have a distinct, short petiole at the base. The undersides are marked with two yellowish to greyish-green length-wise stripes.
Species of this genus differ from other gymnosperms in having a single, dark bluish seed surrounded by a red, fleshy, cup-shaped covering. The seed with the covering is about the size of a pea.
The Pacific Yew does not contain levels of certain compounds called taxines (alkaloids) that make other species of yew toxic and has been used for centuries by Native Americans and eaten by animals without any harm.
The use of the Pacific Yew as a modern medicine dates back to the late 1950's and early 1960's. During this time there was pressure for serious cancer research and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) was formed. One of their agendas was to look for medicinal plants that could help in the newly declared war against cancer. The NCI contracted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find samples of many plant species for research.
Taxus brevifolia, amongst many other species, was found and analysed in 1962. Researchers quickly saw that Taxus brevifolia showed a broad spectrum of anti-cancer activity. It took another two years to isolate a particular compound from the bark of the tree that appeared to provide the yew's anti-cancer properties. The Pacific Yew's cancer-killing compound was christened 'Taxol' and seemed to provide real hope.
In order to make a synthetic drug from a natural substance, scientists must first be able to see its molecular structure. The Taxol molecule, however, is very complex, and therefore almost impossible to reproduce in the laboratory. As Taxol could not be readily synthesised, the NCI would have to rely on extractions of the Taxol compound from the Pacific Yew tree itself. Teams of collectors would be required to go into the wilds of the Pacific Northwest to cut down the trees and harvest the bark. From the bark, the Taxol constituent would be extracted and made into a medicine. The process would be very expensive and time consuming and the NCI postponed the project for several years.
The NCI eventually began long-term trials on Taxol with Bristol Meyers Squibb. The pharmaceutical giant was given rights to exclusively market Taxol and to use its name as its own proprietary trademark. Even in the trial stage, the drug showed such promise that cancer patients were clamouring for it.
In December of 1992, Taxol was given new drug approval, thirty years after research was begun.
Bristol Meyers Squibb's 1997 Annual Report stated that, although Taxol was originally approved for use as a treatment for refractory ovarian cancer, ongoing research was showing its efficacy in other arenas such as cancers of the lung, breast, bladder, prostate, oesophagus, head and neck, cervix, and endometrium and also Kaposi's sarcoma.
Taxol made such an impact on the medical community that an entire book of more than 400 pages was compiled, which includes formerly unpublished research data detailing the history, chemistry, formulation and production of Taxol.
Because of the limited population of slow-growing Pacific Yews and environmental concerns (more than 400,000 trees were cut down for Taxol production), supply became a problem. As a result, Taxol became scarce and one of the most expensive drugs on the market.
By 1994, scientists found a way to semi-synthesise Taxol from a substance called 10-deactylbaccatin 111, which could be grown and harvested commercially from a species of ornamental yew tree foliage. This discovery removed the tremendous burden on Pacific Yew tree populations and made the drug less scarce.
The Taxol compound belongs to a family of compounds called Taxanes that are unique to the Yew species. During the Taxol studies, several yew taxanes in addition to the Taxol tanane were found to exert anti-cancer properties. Other Pacific Yew taxanes (also called diterpenes) are known by various names such as baccatin 111, brevitaxin, brevifoliol and cephalomannine, as well as variations of taxol compounds. Therefore, Taxol is only one of hundreds of organic compounds in Taxus brevifolia.
Research showed that Pacific Yew taxanes were able to destroy cancer cells by a unique mechanism not seen in other anti-cancer substances. Cancer cells replicate by sending out what are referred to as 'spindle fibres' (or microtubules). At the end of these fibres, a new cancer cell matures. The spindle fibres, which connect the new cell to its parent, disintegrate and the new cell is then separate and able to give birth to more cancer cells. This process creates uncontrolled cell growth that forms tumours and radically interferes with normal body functioning. Most chemotherapeutic agents work by destroying the cancer cell's ability to form the spindle fibres. However, the spindle fibres may re-grow when the drug is stopped. The yew taxanes destroy cancer cells by a completely different route. The yew taxane allows the cancer cell to grow its spindle fibres, but prevents the spindle fibres from disintegrating, which paralyses cell division and permanently stops the growth of the cancer cells.
Reportedly, drug companies have considered possible uses for Pacific Yew taxanes other than the Taxol taxane. However, as one researcher states, the number and complexity of these naturally occurring taxanes makes them difficult candidates for drug formulation and synthesis.
In addition to its taxane content, Taxus brevifolia also contains other important beneficial plant compounds such as lignans, which have been found to exhibit significant anti-cancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory activities. Flavonoids are also present in Taxus brevifolia such as quercitin, rhamnetin and sciatdopitysin. Flavonoids are plant compounds known for their anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, anti-viral and anti-cancer properties. Flavanoids also act as powerful antioxidants, providing protection against free radical damage.
During 1991, 1992 and 1993, Bighorn Botanicals, Inc. was under contract to Hauser Chemical Research, Inc., to process Montana Yew bark for the ultimate production of Taxol. Hauser was under contract to Bristol Meyers Squibb Pharmaceutical, Inc. to extract the Taxol from the processed bark. Upon completion of those contracts, Bighorn Botanicals continued to wild craft, process and develop selected species of botanicals indigenous to north-western Montana.
Although the plant was originally thought to be poisonous workers handling the plant suffered no ill effects. During the Environmental Impact Study conducted by the United States Forest Service, a letter came to light detailing the story of a woman who had made a tea from the limb tips and used it as a dietary supplement to treat her ovarian cancer. In 1992 the owner of the company began to drink the tea made from the bark, with no adverse effects. In 1994, after the company's contract ended with Hauser Chemical Company, the owner made contact with an alternative cancer clinic in Mexico, which began to use the bark as part of their cancer protocol. During this time, it was found that the bough tips of the plant (the terminal six to eight inches of the limb) seemed to work more effectively than the bark. Research confirmed that greater amounts of naturally occurring taxanes with anti-tumour activity were found in the needles of Taxus brevifolia when harvested and processed properly.
Bighorn Botanicals now produces a tincture, a tea and a salve, all from the yew tips. The experience of Bighorn, the cancer clinic in Mexico, other health practitioners, and the general public seems to show very positive effects of this plant on many different conditions, including cancer.
The Taxol content in the Montana Yew is twice as high as the yew harvested in other north-west states, as documented by Hauser Chemical Research Corporation. Additionally, it seems that a species of fungi (Taxomycesandreanae) occurring on the Pacific Yew itself produces Taxol. The more recent discovery that the hazelnut tree (Corylusavellana) also contains Taxol has raised hopes that it may be obtainable from a variety of trees.
The yew tree has been an integral part of human history. Various yew species are native to Europe, Egypt, India, China, Japan and the United States. The wood was prized by many civilisations for thousands of years in the making of shelter, tools and weapons. One yew spear point found in England is thought to be more than 50,000 years old. The mummified remains of the 5,300 year-old ???Ice Man??? found recently in the Alps revealed that he carried a yew handled copper axe, along with a six-foot yew bow and arrows. In medieval Europe, yew wood was used for domestic tools, as well as for implements of war. In the Battle of Agincourt, the English used long bows made from yew. The hardness and durability of the wood allowed its use for many daily items such as tables, dishes, flooring, bowls and beds. Funeral offerings, sculptures, crosses, altars, maypoles, yule logs and sacred objects were also made of yew wood, largely because of the yew's mystical lineage which may have stemmed from recognition of the yew tree's innate properties of structural strength and medicinal power.
???Many cultures used yew for medicine; teas were made of leaves and bark, powders from the bark; even the wood itself was thought to have healing properties. Europeans used the yew as an abortifacient and as a cure for hydrophobia and heart ailments. Claudius suggested in the first century AD. that the juice of yew served as an antidote to the bite of the viper. Du Monceau and Lowe noted its use as a heart tonic?????
(The Yew Tree, A Thousand Whispers by Hal Harzell, Jr.)
In parts of India, the yew is called Deodar or God's tree. Historically it was used for bows, dyes, incense and medicine. Indians made salves of crushed yew needles mixed with butter to treat skin cancer.
The indigenous people of the American north-west coast have traditionally used the Pacific Yew for tools, weapons, personal items and sacred objects. Native Americans still consider the yew to be sacred and continue to make spirit poles, death masks, ceremonial boxes and platters, as well as shaman's wands, whistles, rattles, drum frames, and other religious objects out of its wood. Some tribes call it ???Chief of the Forest???. Branches and staves from living trees are fashioned into bows, canoe paddles, or digging sticks. They crush needles to make salves for skin diseases and poultices for bronchitis. Needles and bark are brewed into teas or smoked for remedies against headaches, dizziness, and stomach and lung problems. In Canada, Native Americans use Pacific Yew as a remedy for rheumatism, scurvy, numbness, pain, fever, colds, arthritis, stomach-ache, as a diuretic and to alleviate the pain of childbirth.
Bighorn Botanicals, Inc. #3 Bighorn Lane, Noxon, MT 59853, USA.
Christy, Martha: The Pacific Yew Story. How An Ancient Tree Became a Modern Medicine. Wishland Publishing, Inc. Meza AZ 85274.
Conway, Peter: Tree Medicine. Piatkus Publishing, Limited. London, UK.
Niatum, Duane: Carriers of The Dream Wheel. Contemporary Native American Poetry. Harper & Row. 1975.
The source of the remedy was from Bighorn Botanicals. The tincture was prepared from the bough tips of the plant, using a sub-species specific to Montana. The remedy was potentised by Helios Pharmacy, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK, and Hahnemann Pharmacy, San Rafael, California, USA.
There were two placebos but both recipients dropped out before doing the proving. Two other people also dropped out and one did not report any effects.
Unfortunately, there were only two males in the proving and one male reported no symptoms. All but three provers were homeopathic students and practitioners. Twelve provers were in the San Francisco Bay Area, one in Los Angeles and one in Colorado.
The main areas of affinity for the remedy were the Mind, Dreams, Head, Nose, Mouth, Face, Female Genitalia, Neck, Extremities, and Skin.
There were many pains and sensations that were stitching, piercing, sharp, like needles and pins, burning, acidic and itching. This was experienced in many parts of the body.
In the mind section, the following categories were created:
This was one of the strongest themes in the proving. Provers used the word ???calm??? a lot, and it was expressed throughout the whole duration of the proving. Other words used were placid, casual, apathetic, relaxed, peaceful, flow and patient.
Calmness in time of danger, cancer, death
The polarity of these themes is also very significant. In the face of danger and disease there remained a strong feeling of calmness. Three people dreamt of cancer, either having cancer or being with someone who had cancer. Even the person who dreamt he had cancer was calm in the face of this knowledge. Another theme that three provers had was being calm in the face of water ??? a storm, water coming into the house, and a rushing stream.
Doctors, research, experiments, trust
These themes came out strongly in people???s dreams. They were seeing a doctor, and it tended to be about female issues, especially ovaries. The theme of research came up and the question of whether the doctors should be trusted. One woman dreamt on the first night of the remedy that she had to see a doctor for pain in the ovaries, and in spite of the concern it was rather a matter of fact and she didn???t feel particularly worried.
Terror, violence, abuse, torture, piercing, arrows, battle
One prover had the idea of battles going through her mind when in a kind of altered state and a song that she recognised to be the Battle Hymn of the Republic. One of the co-ordinators also had a strange desire to listen to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which is a traditional song in the USA.
There were many dark feelings of abuse, pain, violence and terror. One prover, who had had many years of violent abuse as a child felt cured after the remedy. This prover also dreamt of arrows, which was highly unusual. The feeling of being pierced, of sharpness, penetration and cutting is a general characteristic, both physically and psychologically.
Another prover had many images and sensations about the holocaust. This was part of her family history. She experienced strong feelings of despair and torment on the remedy. The strong feelings of being abused and experimented on, especially in the regions of the ovaries and uterus were consistent of other provers as well.
There was a sense of power and aggression, and on the other side of being abused and a victim.
Depression, heaviness, despair
There is a distinct dark side to the remedy, with feelings of despair. One person felt total despair with itching, whilst another felt the despair and torment of feeling abused. The themes of torture and abuse also revealed the darker side of the remedy.
Projects, productiveness, busy, activity, impatience
This is another strong theme for many provers. There was much more productivity and ability to work, be active and busy.
People also experienced obstacles to being productive. Things would just happen that would prevent a person doing what he/she had to do. Codes to doors wouldn???t work, things were forgotten, people got lost, and gas pumps wouldn???t work.
There was a feeling of being trapped, immobilised, of being a prisoner.
There was a sense of time distortion, both moving too slowly and too quickly, and making mistakes in time, losing connection to time.
There was a tendency to make mistakes when speaking and a lack of memory for specific words.
Giggly, giddy, silly, goofy
Spacey, fog, disorientation, disassociated, floaty, lost. This was quite a strong sensation in the proving. People used the words spacey and disassociated quite frequently.
Rain, water, rushing, flow
There was a distinct theme of water in the proving ??? water rushing, stormy, water coming in, water on the floor.
Taking care, taken care of, babies, parents, loss
In different situations, the theme of caring for others and being taken care of came up. It involved adults, parents, children and animals, and at times a feeling of loss.
Insecurity, disappointment, rejection
There were some very strong physical characteristics that may be very useful indications for the remedy.
There were quite significant head symptoms. The pains experienced were often sharp and piercing and also some congestion feelings. Different parts of the head were affected, more around the eyes, and also associated with sinus symptoms.
There was some obstruction of the nose, worse on the left side and a feeling of rawness in the nose, like an eruption.
There were significant symptoms around the mouth, especially in the gums, with sensations of pain, tenderness, puffiness, itching and tingling. The corners of the mouth were affected, with cracking, sharp pain and cold sores.
There were a lot of eruptions around the lips, especially the corners of the mouth. Eruptions looked vesicular and herpetic.
There was pain in the face, around the cheekbone, along with numbness. Pain also came from the eyeball region. There was aching in the jaw and pain associated with sinus pain.
There was a marked increase in thirst. There were stomach pains that were acidic and burning, similar to acidic feelings in other part of the body. One person had these feelings along with pain in the neck and shoulders, which were a focal point of pain in the remedy. There was nausea, constipation and gas.
There was cramping pain, and excruciating pain in the inguinal region. Bloating and gas were also experienced.
There were marked symptoms of intense itching, sharpness and burning in the vaginal area. It drove one person to despair, continuing for a long time. The same person also experienced relief from her usual menstrual cramps. There were marked ovary symptoms, affecting both sides, with a sharp, pulling and burning pain. The fact that themes of ovaries came through in the dreams strongly indicates the affinity of the remedy for ovarian conditions.
There were distinct breast symptoms, from tingly, electrical feelings, to sharp, burning pain, squeezing, pinching pains and itching. Both breasts were affected.
There were strong neck symptoms, with much pain and stiffness. Pains were often sharp, intense, spasmodic, burning and acidic. Both sides were affected but it tended to affect one side more than the other. Pains were worse for motion and turning the head. There were also tingling, electrical feelings in the neck. Neck pains extended into the shoulders and down the arms, to the back and even thighs.
There were also sharp, neuralgic, stitching pains in other parts of the back, mainly the sacral region. Sharp pain in the back was associated with numbness in the fingertips.
There were some eruptions on the neck and dorsal region. They were red, dry, itchy and tender.
The shoulders were strongly affected, especially the left side. The pains would also affect the neck.
(When writing up the proving, the co-ordinator experienced a severe ache in the left shoulder and neck, which he never had before).
The pain in the shoulder would also extend down the arms to the hand. The pain was also focused in the left arm and then extending to the hand with burning and then tingling.
There were sharp pains in the forearm, like an acupuncture needle going in.
One prover experienced relief from the sharp pain she used to have when pressing her cyst in her wrist.
There were pains in the hand and fingers and specifically pain in the right thumb. The right thumb was strongly affected by one prover and two other provers had sensations around the right thumb. One person dreamt about a friend???s thumb. The thumb was sore and swollen.
There were shooting pains in the wrist and hands, extending from wrist to thumb. Two people had carpal tunnel type pain in the arm and wrist.
One person had pain in her left index finger like it had cactus spines or nettles in it. It was a sharp pain, followed by prickling and itching. The feeling spread to the end of the fingers, and then the itching spread up to the forearm.
There was pain in the hips, left knee and in the toes. There was itching on the thigh and the ankle > scratching. There was a bruised feeling in the legs, sore and achy.
The big toes on both feet were affected, with a rash, cramp, aching and swelling.
There was a tendency to yawn and to feel sleepy earlier in the evening and also feeling sleepy in the day.
Also, there was a tendency to stay up later than usual and general sleeplessness.
Some provers woke up at intervals in the night, from 2am onward.
There were distinct skin symptoms, with intense itching, prickling, with > scratching. Eruptions were herpetic, like bites, and a red rash. One person had her herpes eruptions of many years disappear for a while, but it then returned. The skin became very dry.
The itching was associated with burning and a sharp feeling
Desire for alcohol, heavy food, juice, soup, squash, sweets and a dream for hamburgers.
There was both an increase and decrease in sensitivity to alcohol.
There were strong burning, cramping, drawing, sharp, like needles, shooting, stitching piercing, like cones, like nails, prickling, acidic pains.
Pains suddenly appeared and disappeared, and extended downward.
Some pains were better from very hot water.
Pain and itching driving to despair.