HomeHerb DatabaseWhite Cedar, Northern Sunday, July 21, 2024  
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Northern White Cedar

  • Thuja occidentalis L.
  • Arborvitae
  • Biotae orientalis
  • Cupressaceae
  • Pinaceae

Common Names

herbsFalse white cedar
herbsTree of life
herbsYellow cedar

Parts Usually Used

Leaves, inner bark, leaf oil and seeds.

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Although a slow grower, Thuja is a well-known ornamental American evergreen; it can reach 70-80 feet, retaining its dense, pyramidal form. Some say the northern white cedar is of the cypress family, some references say it is of the pine family. This hardy evergreen has dense, scale-like foliage, waxy to the touch, and fragrant. Leaves in flattened sprays; small, appressed overlapping. Cones bell-shaped, with loose scales.

Where Found

A native of the U.S. and Canada, this tree does best in moist, sandy loam. In a dry situation, it will suffer from both heat and cold. Found in swamps; cool rocky woods. Most nurseries stock several varieties. Found growing in the wet ground from New Hampshire to Florida.

Medicinal Properties

Stimulant, astringent, vermifuge, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, diuretic, emmenogogue, expectorant, anthelmintic, irritant

Experimentally, leaf oil is antiseptic, expectorant, counterirritant; extracts have shown antiviral properties against herpes simplex.

Legends, Myths and Stories

Native Americans put boughs of cedar on teepee poles, said to ward off lightning. Thunderbird was said to nest in mountain cedars. Red cedar (J. scopulorum), used ceremonially on the altar of the sacred woman at the Sun Dance.


The leaves and tops are used for chronic cough, fever, and gout. An infusion made of 1 oz. of the tender leaves to a pint of boiling water may be taken 1 tbsp. at a time as a diuretic, emmenogogue, and uterine stimulant. Applied externally, it is said to remove warts and fungoid growths. As a counterirritant, it is useful for relief of muscular aches and pains. A salve for external application can be made by boiling a quantity of the leaves in lard.

The oil has been used as an aromatic ingredient in soap liniment. And the odor of the essential oil is pungent, almost overpowering. It is matched by a strong bitter taste. Arborvitae oil may be home distilled and used as an insect repellent.

American Indians used leaf tea for headaches, colds, in cough syrups, in steam baths for rheumatism, arthritis, congestion, and gout; externally, as a wash for swollen feet and burns. Inner-bark tea used for consumption. Doctors once used leaf tincture externally on warts, venereal warts, gonorrhea, syphilis, prostate problems, toothache, whooping cough, piles, ulcers, bed sores, and fungus infections. Internally, leaf tincture was used for bronchitis, asthma, pulmonary disease, enlarged prostate with urinary incontinence.

Folk medicine cancer remedy.

How Sold



Taken in excess, the oil can produce unpleasant results; it was officially listed as an abortifacient (a drug or agent causing abortion) and convulsant in overdose.

Leaf oil is considered toxic, causing hypotension (low blood pressure), and convulsions. Fatalities have been reported.

Do Not use this herb during pregnancy.

Do Not use without medical supervision.

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