Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Yew arils

Widespread throughout the British Isles, yew is an exceptionally long-lived evergreen tree which has attracted a great many wild speculations [1].  It is also notorious as a poisonous plant, capable of killing both humans and their livestock.  However, one part of the plant can be eaten and was formerly enjoyed by children.

Although yew’s dark green seeds are poisonous, the pinkish red fleshy cups – arils – which surround them have a sweetish taste and are edible, although their sticky, slimy texture probably ensures that few people will persist and eat more than one or two.

In 1597 John Gerard noted:

When I was yoong … my schoole fellows and likewise myself did eate our fils of the berries of this tree … without any hurt at all, and that not one   time, but many times [2].

More recently:

Some kids ate the red flesh of the yew berries despite the actual seeds being noxious [Dorchester, Dorset, February 1992].

[I am 88] as far as plant names are concerned the one that stands out is snot-gobbles referring to the berries of the yew tree.  Not a  very elegant name but truly descriptive of the berries I well remember tasting as a child [Maulden, Bedfordshire, April 1993].

[Wye, Kent, 1940s] we knew that yew seeds were poisonous, but we would eat, for its sweetness, the sticky red covering, which was known as red snot [Alton, Hampshire, June 1993].

However, as a warning:
Going back over 60 years, I remember being fucking sick after eating the arils [of yew] [Earls Court, London, October 1998].

Addendum:  In September 2019 yews were discussed on the Britain’s Ancinet and Sacred Trees Facebook page, stimulating the following comment from an Oxford contributor:                                                                              ‘We’ve eaten these yew berries for years, the seed is dangerous, but the flesh, known to us as slobberygob, in delicious.’

References:

1.  For a sane account of yew in the British Isles see R. Bevan-Jones, The Ancient Yew, Bollington, 2002.

2.  Gerard, J., 1597. The Herbal, or General Historie of Plants, London, p.1188.

Image:  St Mary’s churchyard, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire; September 2015.

Updated 24 September 2019.