Herb: Western Red Cedar

Latin name: Thuja plicata

Synonyms: Thuja gigantea, Thuja lobbii, Thuja menziesii

Family: Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Medicinal use of Western Red Cedar:

Western red cedar was employed medicinally by a number of native North American Indian tribes, who used it to treat a wide range of complaints. It is seldom, if ever, used in modern herbalism. An infusion of the leaves has been used in the treatment of stomach pains and diarrhoea. A decoction of the leaves has been used in the treatment of colds. A decoction of the powdered leaves has been used externally to treat various internal pains, including rheumatism. The leaf buds have been chewed in the treatment of toothaches and sore lungs. A decoction of the buds has been used as a gargle. A decoction of the small branches has been used in the treatment of coughs, colds and tuberculosis. A weak infusion has been drunk in the treatment of painful joints caused by rheumatism or arthritis. A poultice of the crushed bough tips and oil has been applied to the back and chest in the treatment of bronchitis, rheumatism, stomach pains and swollen neck. An infusion of the twigs has been used as a wash in the treatment of venereal disease sores. A decoction of the boughs has been used as an antidandruff shampoo. A decoction of the stem tips and the roots has been used in the treatment of colds. An infusion of the bark and twigs has been used in the treatment of kidney complaints. An infusion of the seeds and twigs has been used in the treatment of fevers. The chewed bark, or a decoction of the bark, has been drunk to induce menstruation. A moxa of the inner bark has been used as a counter-irritant for the skin. A poultice of the inner bark has been applied to carbuncles. The bark has been pounded until it is as soft as cotton and then used to rub the face. The very soft bark has been used to bind wounds and cover dressings. The shredded bark has been used to cauterize sores and swellings.

Description of the plant:


60 m
(197 feet)

to April


Habitat of the herb:

Grows singly and in small groves in moist to swampy soils, usually in shady forests, from sea-level to 1350 metres.

Edible parts of Western Red Cedar:

Inner bark - fresh or dried. The inner bark can be dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickening in soups etc or mixed with cereals when making bread. A pitch obtained from the trunk has been used as a chewing gum.

Other uses of the herb:

Tolerant of light trimming and of reasonable exposure, this species can be grown as a hedge or as part of a shelterbelt. An infusion of the boughs can be used as a hair wash to treat dandruff and scalp germs. The fibrous inner bark can be pounded until it is soft and then used as a sponge for scouring dishes etc, or can be used for making rough clothing, blankets, mats, ropes, sanitary towels, a padding in a baby's cradle, nappies etc. Waterproof hats, capes, trousers, skirts etc can be made from the inner bark. It is also used in thatching and as a stuffing material for mattresses. Inner bark strips have been used as a roofing material. The bark has also been used to make paint brushes. The inner bark has been used to make a wick for oil lamps. The inner bark has been used for making baskets. The roots are used in basket making, making nets etc. The roots have been used in coiled and imbricated baskets. The roots have been peeled, split and used to make coiled watertight baskets that can be used for boiling water. The roots are harvested in the spring or early autumn when it is easier to remove the bark. The outer strips of the roots are used to make the bottom of the basket, the centre core is used in the coils and the root bark, because of its toughness, is used to make the edges. The fibrous bark is used for roofing and the sides of shelters. It is also used as an insulation. A fibre obtained from the bark is used in making paper. The fibre is about 3.8mm long (this refers to the heartwood fibre, the inner bark fibre is probably longer). Branches can be harvested at any time of the year, they are cut into usable pieces and pre-soaked in clear water prior to cooking. They are then cooked for six hours or more with lye. It is difficult to rinse it to clear water because it seems to be a dye material. The fibre is then hand pounded with mallets, or put through a blender or a ball mill for six hours. It is difficult to hydrate properly. The resulting paper is a rich deep brown/red. The slender pliable branches are used as a high quality rope. They are gathered in spring, peeled and, if thick, are split into halves or quarters. They are then twisted and worked until soft and pliable and finally woven together to make the rope. A green dye can be obtained from the leaves and twigs. The inner bark can be used as a tinder. Wood - aromatic, light, soft, straight-grained, not strong, very resistant to decay. This resistance to decay is probably due to the existence of powerful fungicides in the wood. The wood from fallen trees remains sound for at least 100 years. It is pale to dark red in colour. The wood was widely utilized by many native North American Indian tribes who used it for making a wide range of items including canoes, houses, totem poles, bowls, spoons, ladles and tools. It is currently used in making greenhouses. The wood is not of such good quality when grown in mild humid areas. It makes a good fuel, burning with very little smoke, though it burns quickly.

Propagation of Western Red Cedar:

Seed - best sown when ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. Stored seed germinates best if given a short cold stratification. It can be sown in a cold frame in late winter. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. If growing large quantities of plants, the seed can be sown in an outdoor seed bed in mid spring. Grow the plants on for two years and then plant them out into their permanent positions in late autumn or early spring. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 - 8cm with a heel, July/August in a shaded frame. Forms roots by the end of September but it should be overwintered in a frame. Cuttings of almost ripe wood, 5 - 10cm with a heel, September in a cold frame. Forms roots in the following summer. Plant out in autumn or spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Grows singly and in small groves in moist to swampy soils, usually in shady forests, from sea-level to 1350 metres.

Known hazards of Thuja plicata:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.