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Swamp cedar

Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description

Thuja occidentalis is an evergreen coniferous tree, in the cypress family Cupressaceae, which is native to the northeast of the United States and the southeast of Canada, but widely cultivated as an ornamental plant. Common names include:-

white cedar

northern white cedar

yellow cedar

Atlantic white cedar

eastern white cedar

swamp cedar

false white cedar


American arborvitae

eastern arborvitae

The name Arborvitae is Latin for "tree of life" - due to the medicinal properties of the sap, bark and twigs. Despite its common names, it does not belong to the cedar genus.

Thuja occidentalis grows naturally in wet forests, being particularly abundant in coniferous swamps where other larger and faster-growing trees cannot compete successfully. It also occurs on other sites with reduced tree competition, such as cliffs.

Although not currently listed as endangered, wild Thuja occidentalis populations are threatened in many areas by high deer numbers; deer find the soft evergreen foliage a very attractive winter food, and strip it rapidly. The largest known specimen is 34 m tall and 175 cm diameter, on South Manitou Island within Leelanau County, Michigan.

This can be a very long-lived tree in certain conditions, with notably old specimens growing on cliffs where they are inaccessible to deer and wildfire; the oldest known living specimen is just over 1,100 years old, but a dead specimen with over 1,650 growth rings has been found.   Despite their age, these very old trees are small and stunted due to the difficult growing conditions.

White Cedar is a tree with important uses in traditional Ojibwe culture. Honoured with the name Nookomis Giizhik ("Grandmother Cedar"), the tree is the subject of sacred legends and is considered a gift to humanity for its myriad uses, among them crafts, construction and medicine.   It is one of the four plants of the Ojibwe medicine wheel, associated with the south.

The essential oil within the plant has been used for cleansers, disinfectants, hair preparations, insecticides and liniment. 

And in the 19th century, Thuja was in common use as an externally applied tincture or ointment for the treatment of warts, ringworm and thrush.   "An injection of the tincture into venereal warts is said to cause them to disappear."

And from the Pubmed paper, it appears there is now scientific evidence that this application is correct.

How it works

Scientists are working on it.

Related observations