Cedar Uses and Benefits

by Victoria Finlay

What is Cedar?

The term 'cedar' is widely used to describe various evergreen conifers (genus Thuja) of the cypress family (Cupressaceae). The 'true' cedars are members of the coniferous genus Cedrus and can be found throughout the Mediterranean Basin and Southeast Asia.

There are six known Thuja species: two in North America and four in eastern Asia. The Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), which can grow up to 70 metres tall and three metres wide, is found along the west coast of North America and on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Meanwhile, Eastern White Cedars (Thuja occidentalis) stay smaller at a maximum height of 25 meters, but they make up for it by being spread out throughout the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Forest region.

Asiatic species (Thuja orientalis) of Cedar are often planted as garden ornamentals.

Cedar Through History

The Cedar tree is surrounded by lore going back to the beginning of time. While Norse people sometimes referred to the Tree of Life as Grandmother Cedar, it has deep connections with the Greek Goddess Persephone during her detainment in the Underworld. It’s also strongly associated with the Celtic Goddess Sezh who watches over the realm of fertility, herbs, and trees. King Solomon, one of the greatest mystics of all time, used Cedar in the building of the temple in Jerusalem. 

Representing incorruptibility and eternal life, cedar was thought to symbolize purification and protection. It was a Jewish custom to burn cedar wood to celebrate New year, while the ancient Celts used cedar oil (mainly yellow cedar) to preserve the heads of enemies taken in battle. The Druids and ancient Celts also believed Cedar to be the Tree of Life. 

In traditional African American conjure - also known as HooDoo, Cedar is used where benevolent power is needed. This might look like needing to draw someone in to rent a room, to make someone move out of a house, or to entice someone to come with you when you move house.

Using Cedar  

The Latin name for Cedar is arbor vitae, which translates to "Tree of Life." For millennia, people have used cedar for medicinal and spiritual purposes. When burned, it cleanses the area of negative energy and brings in good influences. It also emits a pleasant scent.

Cedar is known to Native Americans as one of the four sacred medicines, along with sweetgrass, sage, and tobacco. The major purification herb employed at the Lakota sun dance ceremony is cedar. Cedar was offered to the fire to cleanse not just the people but also the space, and cedar branches are used to cover the floors inside sweat lodges. It's supposed to help with clairvoyance, revitalize tired bodies, minds, and spirits, as well as guard against illness.

The wood of the Cedar tree is associated with longevity and protection, and it's frequently utilized in charms to fulfill these objectives. Externally, cedar oil and ointments are available for muscle aches, chest congestion, and colds. When cedar tea is prepared with sage, it cleanses the body of all infections. Place cedar needles in a loose-woven bag and immerse them in a bathtub full of water.

Cleansing With Cedar

Smoke cleansing - also known as ‘smudging’ or ‘saining’ - the burning of sacred herbs is a common practice in many healing ceremonies and shamanic traditions around the world. 

It’s a way of purifying and cleansing a space, person or object of negative energies or influences. Burning certain herbs gives access to the power of the plants and the fragrance releases high vibrational energy which protects the physical and spiritual bodies. Its metaphysical properties promote peaceful thoughts and help interpret messages from your inner self. Cedar supports us on spiritual quests by reconnecting and grounding us with earthly roots. Many have said that working with Cedar on a spiritual level has helped them build confidence and courage. 

Some of the other herbs used for smoke cleansing are – Sagepalo santosweetgrass, copal, tobacco, eucalyptusjuniperlavender and rosemary.

Cedar and Coastal First Nations

Coastal Old Growth Cedar

Native American tribes are very diverse. Cultural teachings, philosophies, and social dynamics differ greatly from one tribe to another. Even within one tribe, stories and teachings may vary from region to region.

Cedar trees have been significant to the Northwest Pacific Coast region for thousands of years. Coastal First Nations in British Columbia have utilized this versatile wood in a variety of ways, including spiritually and ceremonially. Almost every part of a cedar tree can be used, from the roots to the bark to the wood to the tips.

There are two types of cedar trees native to the temperate rainforests on British Columbia's coast: Yellow Cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) and Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata). You can tell them apart by their size (Yellow is smaller) and growth pattern (Bushier for Yellow). While inland areas are not great habitats for Yellow Cedar, it does well in subalpine coastal forests from Vancouver Island up to Alaska. While the yellow cedar on the coast of British Columbia is technically a species of cypress, it usually stands between 20 to 40 metres tall. Unlike its yellow counterpart, Red Cedar does equally as good whether it's on the coast or in interior mountains moist slopes and valleys.

Because of this, certain Interior First Nations people also collected Red Cedar, albeit to a lesser extent than the coastal nations. Because it is not only the tallest tree in the region but can live up to 1,000 years old and is lightweight, rot-resistant wood made it the most commonly utilized plant among coastal First Nations, although both types of cedar are collected to produce a variety of everyday objects and religious items.

According to a Coast Salish creation story that explains how Cedar came to be, there once lived a gracious gentleman who shared everything he had with others. When the Creator recognized his generosity, the Creator said that when he died, a Western Red Cedar tree would spring up where he was buried, and it would continue to help the people.

According to the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island, Yellow Cedar trees were once three young women who ran up the side of a mountain. For this reason, you'll find Yellow Cedars on subalpine mountain slopes with soft inner bark that resembles a woman's hair.

Using Cedar Respectfully

Always set your intentions and thank the plants, telling them how you hope to use them. Whether you are preparing your sacred space for meditation and healing, cleansing your living space, to relax and reduce stress, using sacred herbs is healing for the body and spirit and connects with the source.

Cedar Bundles

Cedar Bundles

This large cedar stick baton is made of 100% natural western red cedar, grown and made in British Columbia, Canada. Our cedar is wildcrafted in a sustainable way.

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