February 01, 2023
Latin name: Thuja officinalis
Part Used: Leaves
History & Cultural Significance: Cedar is a well-known symbol of the Northwest Coast. For thousands of years, coastal First Nations in British Columbia have the versatile wood in many aspects of their lives. Not only is cedar a key natural resource in the production of material goods, the tree also plays an integral role in the spiritual beliefs and ceremonial life of coastal First Nations.
Coast Salish peoples have a creation story that explains the origins of Cedar. According to the story, there once lived a good man who always gave away his belongings and food to others. The Creator recognized the man’s kindness, and declared that once the man dies, a Red Cedar tree will grow where he is buried, and the tree will continue to help the people. The Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island have a similar origin story for Yellow Cedar. According to their stories, Yellow Cedar trees were transformed from three young women running up a mountain. Therefore, Yellow Cedar trees are found on the slopes of subalpine mountains, and contain soft inner bark, like that of woman’s hair.
Both types of cedar are harvested by coastal First Nations to create a variety of implements for daily use and ceremonial purposes. Almost every part of a cedar tree can be used, including the roots, the bark, the wood, and the withes (the smaller, more pliable sub-branches of a tree).
Given the importance of cedar in everyday life, it is clear that cedar also plays an integral role in the spiritual beliefs of coastal First Nations. These beliefs recognize that the cedar tree has its own life and spirit. Coast Salish and Tlingit shamans often had cedar “spirit assistants” or “guard figures” to protect them.
Cedar was also widely valued for its healing abilities. Yellow Cedar bark, which has anti-inflammatory properties, was frequently applied as a dressing for wounds, as a tourniquet, or to ward off evil. Cedar is offered to the sacred fire during sweat lodge ceremonies, burned during prayers and, when boiled, can purify indoor air and be used for cedar baths. As a tea, it can help to reduce fevers, rheumatic symptoms and relieve symptoms of chest colds and the flu.
Use: Thuja's main action is related to its content of stimulating and alternative volatile oil. In bronchial catarrh, thuja promotes expectoration and provides systemic stimulation that is especially beneficial when heart weakness is also part of the picture. However, thuja should be avoided in cases in which cough is due to overstimulation (for example, dry irritable coughs).
Thuja has a specific reflex action on the uterus and may help with delayed menstruation. Because of this property, however, the herb is best avoided during pregnancy. Thuja may also be used for ordinary incontinence due to loss of muscle tone. It has a role to play in the treatment of psoriasis and rheumatism when used internally. Externally, it may be effective against warts, and demonstrates marked antifungal activity against ringworm and thrush.
Actions: Expectorant, antimicrobial, diuretic, astringent, alterative.
Constituents: Volatile oil (1%), including thujone, flavonoid glycosides, mucilage; tannins.
Safety Considerations: Avoid during pregnancy.
Thuja extract is used in Forage & Soothe's Foot Rescue Botanical Salve.
Huang Alice. 2009. Cedar. Indigenous Foundations.arts.ubc.ca. https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/cedar/
Hoffman, D. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, Vermont, Healing Arts Press, 2003.