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Yew wood, which is very hard and golden yellow in colour, has been used for furniture and panelling, as well as for fence posts, ship masts and wine barrels. It throws out a great heat when burned, and as it resists the action of water, i.e. it doesn't rot away, it was greatly valued before the general use of iron.
Yew sticks were cast by the Celts to divine the future. Yew rods were used for making written ogham scripts, because when the wood is seasoned and polished it has an extraordinary power of resisting decay. For this reason magical wands of yew are considered especially potent.
The art of topiary, the cutting of the foliage of a tree into metamorphic shapes of birds and animals, is widely practised on yew because of its thick foliage.
Yew was included in the church decorations at Easter as a symbol of the continuity of life.
The oldest known wooden implement is a spear made of yew wood, about 50,000 years old, from Clacton-on-Sea, England. Archeological excavations have found found yew bows and knives in Swiss lake dwellings from 10,000 years ago. Historically, yew bows were the weapon of choice for both hunting and warfare throughout most of Europe until the invention of firearms. Yew was also employed in a less forthright manner, as a poison, used for assassination, suicide, as an arrow poison, and to poison fish and mammals. Due to its hardness, it was used for shuttles, cogs, axle-trees, and pulley-pins. The colorful wood (red heartwood, white sapwood) was used to veneer furniture, to make lute bodies, bowls, tankards, combs, tool handles, pegs, and various art objects. As noted below, it was used in many ways by various religions, and certain yew objects such as drinking-cups are still regarded as having a certain spiritual potency. It was used medicinally to treat viper bites, hydrophobia (rabies) and heart ailments, and as an abortifascient. Currently, its principal use is as an ornamental plant. Many cultivars exist, and it is a preferred subject for topiary. It is also known to contain the anti-cancer drug taxol, but has not been widely exploited in this connection