The origins of the bow and arrow are unknown, but they are found in most cultures throughout the world in some form, with arrowheads dating thousands of years. In Europe, the longbow was prized, while shorter bows were traditionally used in Asia and the Middle East. While most European bows were made from a single piece of wood, in the Middle East and Asian bows were often made from horn and wood spliced together, giving greater flexibility in the shorter bows.
Yew is a preeminent wood used for making bows, especially in Europe. As natural supplies of yew began to dwindle in Europe, the emperor Charlemagne of France ordered that yew should be cultivated to ensure the supply of the bow-making tree, according to ThinkQuest. In Britain yew was imported from Italy to produce bows because the Italian yew was of better quality than the native woods. Yew is strong, elastic and lightweight, all three wood qualities that are ideal for making bows.
Ash wood was used to create bows in many countries because of its high tensile properties. Another plus of ash for bow making was the strength of the wood while still being lightweight. Its elasticity makes it ideal for bow making. Ash was popular in Europe, and traditionally used for Viking bows, as well as by Native Americans in the U.S.
Osage Orange is primarily used in the U.S. and was a traditional bow-making wood of the Native Americans. Because the Osage Orange often grows crooked and knotty, finding good bow pieces is difficult. For American Indians, the search for wood was the most time-consuming part of the process of making a bow. Osage Orange is very strong wood, and a well-crafted bow could last a hunter his whole life if properly cared for.
Bamboo is used in Asia for bow-making, but it is used in strips rather than as a solid piece of wood given the tubular structure of bamboo. Bamboo is often used for making the composite bows found in Asia, typically those with horn bellies and sinew backs. This composition gave the bows a tensile strength unmatched by single wood bows..