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The Himalayan Yew


The Himalayan Yew is a species of yew, native to the Himalaya (Pakistan, India, Nepal (from Afghanistan east .Taxus wallichiana Zucc, known as Himalayan yew, belongs to the family Taxaceae.

It is a medium-sized, temperate, Himalayan forest tree of medicinal importance. In India, this evergreen tree is found at altitudes between 1800 and 3300 m above mean sea level (MSL). It has been used by the native populations for treating common cold, cough, fever, and pain. Its uses are described in Ayurveda and Unani medicine. It received attention recently as its leaves and bark were found to be the prime source of taxol, a potent anticancer drug. It possesses many other biological activities also.

 We focus on its importance in traditional medicine for its multiple medicinal properties of western Yunnan in south western China, It is a medium-sized evergreen coniferous tree growing to 20 m tall, similar to Taxus baccata and sometimes treated as a subspecies of it. The shoots are green at first, becoming brown after three or four years.

The leaves are thin, flat, slightly falcate (sickle-shaped), 1.5–2.7 cm long and 2 mm broad, with a softly mucronate apex; they are arranged spirally on the shoots but twisted at the base to appear in two horizontal ranks on all except for erect lead shoots. It is dioecious, with the male and female cones on separate plants; the seed cone is highly modified, berry-like, with a single scale developing into a soft, juicy red aril 1 cm diameter, containing a single dark brown seed 7 mm long.

The pollen cones are globose, 4 mm diameter, produced on the undersides of the shoots in early spring. Taxus wallichiana  or Himalayan yew, belongs to the family Taxaceae and is found in India as an evergreen tree in the temperate Himalayas at altitudes between 1800 and 3300 m and in the hills of Meghalaya and Manipur at an altitude of 1500 m. Taxus is distributed in Europe, North America, North India, Pakistan, China, and Japan. It is a small medium-sized evergreen tree growing from 10 to 28 m in height.

The leaves are flat, dark green, and arranged spirally on the stem. In Asia, its distribution stretches from Afghanistan through the Himalayas to the Philippines, and it is widely distributed in Pakistan and India. In India, it grows in its natural habitat in Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve of Garhwal Himalayas, particularly on the north to north-west slopes. The Himalayan yew, known as Thuner in western Himalayas, has high medicinal value and ethnobotanical importance.

The plant holds an important place in traditional medicine and its products are used by the local populations for treating common infections. It received wide attention recently because its leaves and bark were found to be the prime source of taxol, a potent anticancer drug which has a unique property of preventing the growth of cancerous cells and is used in the treatment of breast and ovarian cancers.

Taxol was first isolated from the bark of Taxus brevifolia. And since then, taxol and related bioactive taxoids have been reported from various other species of the genus Taxus. Excellent clinical results with taxol in the treatment of various cancers, particularly in refractory ovarian and breast cancers, have led to substantial demand for this drug. The leaves and bark of T. brevifoliaT. wallichiana, and other Taxus species have been used for the extraction of taxol.

Due to overexploitation, many species are now endangered and on the verge of extinction. Moreover, several species are disappearing at an alarming rate mainly at higher altitudes due to over-harvesting, habitat destruction, and abrupt climate change.

The tree has medicinal use in Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine. Taxus wallichiana is also a source of the chemical precursors to the anticancer drug paclitaxel. Taxus wallichiana is used for making tea by the Bhotiya tribal community in the Garhwal Himalaya. The stem bark of this species, which is locally known as 'thuner' is collected for this purpose. This species is also used as fuelwood by the local communities. In Himachal it is known to be medicine for some type of cancers.

In Pakistan, decoction of the stem is used in the treatment of tuberculosis. The bark and leaves of T. wallichiana are used in Unani medicine as a source of the drug Zarnab, which is prescribed as a sedative, aphrodisiac, and as a treatment for bronchitis, asthma, epilepsy, snake bite, and scorpion stings. Young shoots of the plant are used in Ayurveda to prepare a tincture for the treatment of headache, giddiness, feeble and falling pulse, coldness of extremities, diarrhea, and severe biliousness.

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