I would go out on a limb and say that the English yew is probably the most influential plant of the western world. Since man first possessed the ability to make tools in Europe, the English yew provided the wood of choice. Due to its slow growth and tight wood grain, the English yew wood is very strong and resilient.

The oldest wooden tool EVER found was made from yew. This artifact is estimated to be 450,000 years old! Another spear of yew wood was found broken off in the ribs of  extinct elephants of Europe. This proves it didn't take long for early man to recognize the utility of the English yew.

Click here to find more information regarding the Clacton Spear

The yew has been used as important war implements for the likes of Alexander the Great and the English monarchs from William the Conqueror to Henry VIII. The yew is the absolute perfect wood for bow making and the English monarchs used their archers to a great advantage. Accounts of the power of the English Archers depict blackening of the sky with arrows. Even if highly outnumbered, armed with trained archers and yew longbows, the English armies were an unstoppable force. The English archers are a large part of English history and folklore (just ask Robin Hood). The English relied on the yew bow so heavily that they nearly eradicated the tree from the entire country. They were having to import the wood from other countries. The invention of early firearms brought about the end of the yew bow, but not because it was more deadly. The English simply didn't have enough resources to provide yew bows any longer and firearms required significantly less training. 

Click here to find more information about the Battle of Agincourt pictured above.   

The yew also contains the toxin "taxol", which causes almost all of the tree to be toxic if ingested by mammals. Taxol is used today as a chemotherapy drug because of its ability to kill cancer cells as well. For more information on taxol and its human/cancer killing properties, see Toxicity