Thursday, August 22, 2013

Red like candy

Do you know what these are? About the size of a small fingernail....

Taxus fruit. Drupe-like, as opposed to like berries (cherries, peaches, apricots, and almonds are also drupes). They are in fact arils. If you want to drive yourself crazy with the right names for the right fruit types, follow this link.

Candy, with caution.

Taxus as in yew tree, or shrub. Quite dignified and beautiful evergreens often abused in the badly maintained hedges that pass for 'landscaping' in so many American front yards. And the fruit is ripening now, if you live in this late summer hemisphere.

The red flesh is wonderful - very sweet, and like jelly. Avoid the seed, which is toxic. It's potentially easier to crunch up than the armoured shells of cherry, apricot and peach kernels, which each have their own secret weapons lurking in their little, exposed hearts (don't we all)?

Taxol, derived from the bark and needles of yew trees, is a potent weapon in the chemotherapy arsenal. Discovered and named in the late 60's, questions about the sustainable harvest of yews to produce taxol arose two decades later:  "Three [Taxus brevifolia, Pacfic yew] trees are needed to provide enough taxol to treat one patient, meaning that about 38,000 trees a year would have to be destroyed to treat ovarian cancer patients in the United States..." (New York Times, 1992).

Taxus species other than the marginalized Pacific yew were targeted, and a synthetic form of the drug, was developed.

I love the way the seed is wrapped by the fruit, like a present. I collected this small handful yesterday from a hedge around the corner.

Today I will collect some more.

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