The 2000 years old Itamos of Europe ... is located here in Sithonia, Halkidiki ...

Itamos (scientific name Taxus baccata, Yew tree in English). 

It is an evergreen tree, powerful in toxicity. It lives in the shade of other trees (in Greece usually under beeches and firs) and at an altitude over 600 meters. It is a tree that grows slowly and lives for many years, sometimes exceeding 2,000 years of growth. It is probably the longest-lived tree in Europe.

Its longevity is ensured in part by the unique property of the orchard not to be affected by diseases in the cracks that occur in the trunk and its branches, like almost all other trees, due to toxicity. Utilization of toxin concentrations after significant research has made it valuable in pharmacology. Almost all parts of the plant are toxic, except the pericarp. The main toxin is the alkaloid taxane, known internationally as taxol (C47H51NO14). 

Symptoms of toxin infection include chills, shortness of breath, muscle spasms, seizures, collapse, and finally heart failure. However, death can occur so soon that the symptoms are often not visible. Fatal poisoning in humans is rare and occurs only in cases of ingestion of large amounts of toxic parts of the plant, in contrast to animals and especially horses which are very sensitive. It is therefore considered dangerous and citizens should avoid any improvised experimentation in the use of parts or derivatives of this tree. 

Itamos are often found in the churchyards of Great Britain and France (especially in the Normandy region). In Spain, and especially in the region of Asturias, it has a strong religious symbolism and is often found in cemeteries, churches and the central squares of villages. According to our mythology, the itamos was dedicated to the Erinyes (the Furies), who punished people with the use of its poison. The goddess of hunting Artemis (Diana) used arrows watered with orphan poison. On the orders of Leto's mother, he killed with these arrows the children of Niovi, who was boasting about her polytechnics.

In pharmacology the first use of the plant is found in 1021 as a heart medicine. In modern times, the extract of the leaves of the plant is used in anti-cancer drugs. In the central Himalayas, the plant is used to treat breast and ovarian cancers. Taxol has been approved as an anti-cancer drug for ovarian, breast and lung cancers. Researchers of the last century, foreigners and Greeks, make references to the orchard of Greek nature, its characteristics and mention the places where it grows, among which Olympus and the mountains of Halkidiki are included.

Various species of orchards worldwide have been identified as endangered species of the world's natural flora by international conventions and the IUCN Red Book. The danger posed by the protection of orphan species internationally is illegal peeling for use in pharmacology. The concentrations of taxol in the bark of the tree are significantly higher than those in its various other parts and consequently there is a high risk that many trees will be peeled off and die uncontrollably.

In 1999 the Ministry of Rural Development conducted an inventory of orphan trees in Greece, in order to protect them more effectively. According to the results of this census, orphan populations were found in 117 Greek forests in isolated mountainous areas with a total number of about 10,000 trees.

Information: Forestry Office of Chalkidiki