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I'm aware roughly of the toxicity of yew. But I can't find definitive evidence of whether or not burning yew logs as firewood, and cooking over the yew, would cause toxic effects. I've found some analysis such as https://www.kew.org/read-and-watch/analysis-of-yew-wood that talk about the presence of taxine alkaloids and their varying amounts in the leaves, bark, and even the heartwood, so I'm certainly convinced that I should not eat out of anything yew, or use yew as a utensil, etc. But I'm curious if the flame would cause problems -- first, simply from burning (I think not, as several firewood resources mention it is a good firewood type), and second, from having something cook over a yew flame.

Of course, the general rule here would be to avoid. But I'm curious if anyone has a definitive answer!

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  • A search for "cooking with yew wood" found this: firewood-for-life.com/yew-firewood.html and backyardsavvy.com/what-wood-is-toxic-to-burn Short answer: no for cooking fires
    – clvrmnky
    Commented Jul 9 at 20:16
  • 1
    @clvrmnky Sounds like the start of an answer...
    – bob1
    Commented Jul 9 at 22:03
  • Never mind eating the food – you are breathing the burning wood's toxic fumes. Commented Jul 9 at 22:47
  • Only tangentially related to the question, but too interesting to ignore (IMO). A very early drug against breast and ovarian cancer, (Taxol) was derived from the bark of the Pacific yew tree. These trees grow slowly, and there was concern that the tree might be endangered by the demand for the drug derived from its bark. However, synthetic drugs related to Taxol were developed in fairly short order. See Pacific Yew, breast cancer
    – ab2
    Commented Jul 12 at 0:42

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A search for "cooking with yew wood" using a non-Google search provider yielded many related hits. I don't otherwise have any direct experience with the wood, and I am not a chemist. Take what I say here with a grain of fancy imported sea salt.

i.e., I'm not sure this is a "definite answer". I'm not sure there is one!

The two most accessible hits had this to say:

It’s a great firewood type for burning, as long as you don’t use it anywhere you plan to cook.

There’s not a lot of evidence that the wood itself produces toxic effects, even when burned.

The most poisonous parts of the plant include the bark, seeds, and leaves.

It’s a good wood for heating, so just make sure you don’t burn the bark or leaves and you should be good to go.

Source.

Is Yew Wood Toxic To Burn?

Yew is not commonly used as firewood because of how unusual it is to find it in abundance. This hardwood burns hot and well, but shouldn’t be used for cooking. The bark, leaves, and seeds contain toxins that are dangerous if ingested.

Source.

So, the advice we see here is "burn it if you got it, but don't depend on it for cooking fires." There is little evidence a good cooking fire with yew wood will have any affect on your food, other than making it hot. The advice seems to be in the spirit of an abundance of caution.

The other advice in many of these links agree with the woodcraft advice I've heard all my life:

  • Don't burn the leaves, seeds, lots of bark, or rotten, punky wood
  • Only burn seasoned wood
  • Unless specifically hot or cold smoking (in which case you would choose select species because you want somewhat "toxic" byproducts to preserve the food) cooking fires should aim for less smoke

Honestly, most wood smoke is "toxic" in even medium amounts. This is just the nature of incomplete combustion. So, while I wouldn't use damp yew in my hot smoker, I'd probably be fine with cooking one or two meals over a proper hot flame of yew, or in the coals.

I mean, even a pine wood fire will release all kinds of nasty terpenes and other VOCs. Humans have been using pine to sear their antelope for millennia.

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