The English Yew, or taxus baccata (“taxus” meaning toxin), is one of the deadliest trees on the planet. The evergreen has a majestic and lush appearance and is fairly common in forests of Europe. The yew is considered by scientists to be an odd and primitive conifer along with the monkey puzzle tree of Chile and Gingko biloba tree of Asia. The yew has a rather sad history. All parts – save for the flesh of the berries – are extremely poisonous. Because the toxin causes convulsions and paralysis, it was once used as an abortifacient. Apothecaries would dry and powder the leaves and stems and give desperate women minute amounts in the days before birth control was available. Unfortunately, death would often result. The yew has been quite popular throughout history for a number of medicinal purposes at extremely dilute levels, but it is deemed too dangerous in modern medical practice to be of use. The yew’s primary toxin is taxine, a cardiac depressant. The yew acts rapidly and there is no antidote.
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