Cedar, Yellow

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Cedar, Yellow

Botanical Name: Thuja occidentalis (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Coniferae

Synonyms: Tree of Life. Arbor Vitae. American Arbor Vitae. Cedrus Lycea. Western Arbor Vitae. False White Cedar. Hackmatack. Thuia du Canada. Lebensbaum.
Part Used: The recently-dried, leafy young twigs.
Habitat: North America, from Pennsylvania northward.

Description: The tallest of this species of Conifer rarely grows above 30 feet high. These trees have regular, graceful conical forms that make them valuable as highhedge trees, and they also take easily any other shape to which they may be clipped. The leaves are of two kinds on different branchlets, one awl-shaped and the other short and obtuse. Both have a small, flattened gland, containing a thin, fragrant turpentine. They are persistent, and overlap in four rows. The flowers are very small and terminal, and the cones nodding first ovoid and then spreading, with blunt scales arranged in three rows.

The name Thuja is a latinized form of a Greek word meaning 'to fumigate,' or thuo ('to sacrifice'), for the fragrant wood was burnt by the ancients with sacrifices. The tree was described as 'arbor vita ' by Clusius, who saw it in the royal garden of Fontainebleau after its importation from Canada. It was introduced into Britain about 1566.

In America the wood is much used for fencing and palings, as a light roofing timber, and, as it is both durable and pliable, for the ribs and bottom of bark boats, and also for limekilns, bowls, boxes, cups, and small articles of furniture.

The fresh branches are much used in Canada for besoms, which have a pleasing scent. The odour is pungent and balsamic and the taste bitter, resembling camphor and terebinth.

The trees grow well on the western coast hills of Britain, and the wood is soft, finely grained, and light in texture.

Constituents: The bitter principle, Pinipicrin, and the tannic acid, said to beidentical with Pinitannic acid, occur also in Pinus sylvestris. Thuja also contains volatile oil, sugar, gelatinous matter, wax, resin, and Thujin. The last is a citron-yellow, crystallizable colouring principle, soluble in alcohol. It has an astringent taste, is inflammable, and can be split up into glucose, Thujigenin and Thujetin (probably identical with Quercitin).

The leaves and twigs are said to yield also a camphor-like essential oil, sp. gr. 0.925, boiling point 190-206 degrees C., easily soluble in alcohol and containing pinene, fenchone, thujone, and perhaps carvone.

A yellow-green volatile oil can be distilled from the leaves and used as a vermifuge.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Aromatic, astringent, diuretic. The twigs may produce abortion, like those of savin, by reflex action on the uterus from severe gastrointestinal irritation. Both fenchone and thujone stimulate the heart muscle. The decoction has been used in intermittent fevers, rheumatism, dropsy, coughs, scurvy, and as an emmenagogue. The leaves, made into an ointment with fat, are a helpful local application in rheumatism. An injection of the tincture into venereal warts is said to cause them to disappear. For violent pains the Canadians have used the cones, powdered, with four-fifths of Polypody, made into a poultice with lukewarm water or milk and applied to the body, with a cloth over the skin to prevent scorching.

Dosage: Of fluid extract, 1/4 drachm, three to six times a day, as stimulating expectorant and diuretic. The infusion of 1 OZ. to a pint of boiling water is taken cold in tablespoonful doses.

Poisons: The oil, resembling camphor, may produce convulsions in warmblooded and paralysis in cold-blooded animals. Sixteen drops of the oil, taken by a girl of fifteen, caused unconsciousness, followed by spasms and convulsions, with subsequent stomachic irritation. It causes great flatulence and distension of the stomach.

Other Species:
CHINESE ARBOR VITAE (Thuja orientalis or Biota orientalis), a native of China and Japan has the same properties. The young branches yield a yellow dye and the wood withstands conditions of humidity well.

T. articulata, of Northern Africa, yields the resin known as Sandarac, formerly used as a drug, and for ointments and plasters. At present it is used as varnish and incense, and the powder, or Pounce, is used to prevent ink spreading on paper after letters have been scratched out. It is occasionally adulterated with mastic, rosin, etc. A false sandarac consists largely of colophony.

Sandarac is said to be used in India for haemorrhoids and diarrhoea and the tincture for friction in cases of low spirits.

The Australian sandarac, from C. robusta, is very similar.

WHITE CEDAR is a common name of Cupressus thujoides.

RED CEDAR OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, the Giant Arbor Vitae, is next to the Douglas Fir in importance in British Columbia, where it attains its greatest height of 100 feet. It is the best wood to use for shingles.

RED CEDAR, or Juniperus virginiana, resembles savin, but is less energetic. Externally it is an irritant, and an ointment prepared from the fresh leaves is used as a substitute for savin cerate in discharge from blisters. The volatile oil has been used for abortion and has caused death, preceded by burning in the stomach, vomiting, convulsions, coma, and gastro-intestinal inflammation. It is used in perfumery, and is a principal constituent of extract of white rose.

Small excrescences called cedar apples are sometimes found on the branches, and used as an anthelmintic. Dosage: from 10 to 20 grains three times a day.

To obtain Cedrene camphor the oil must be cooled until coagulated and the crystalline portion separated by expression.

HAITIAN CEDAR yields an oil resembling that of J. virginiana, but having a higher specific gravity.

HACKMATOCK is also the name of Larix americana.

CEDAR OF LEBANON (Cedrus libani) and its two varieties.

INDIAN CEDAR or DEODAR (C. deodara) and AFRICAN CEDAR (C. Atlantica), or satinwood, yield an oil which, when distilled, is called Libanol. The oil of the last resembles oil of santal, and is good for phthisis, bronchitis, blennorrhagia, and also for eruptions on the skin, in the form of 25 per cent ointment with vaseline. Dosage: capsules up to 45 grains per day.

Cedrela odorata of the West Indies yields a volatile oil that is said to be a powerful insecticide. The wood is used for making cigar boxes. Another cedar of the same family of Cedrelaceae or Meliaceae is AUSTRALIAN RED CEDAR (C. tooma) or Red Cedar of Queensland, yielding Cedar Gum, containing 68 per cent arabin, and 6 per cent metarabin, but no resin.

NEW ZEALAND CEDAR (Libocedrus bidwillii) and also CALIFORNIAN WHITE CEDAR (L. decurrens) possess some of the same properties.

PRICKLY CEDAR (J. oxycedrus) (syn. Large, Brown-fruited Juniper), of the Mediterranean coasts, yields Oil of Cade by destructive distillation of the wood. It has been used from remote ages for the skin diseases of animals, and more recently in medicine for psoriasis and chronic eczema. It is a good parasiticide in psora and favus.

It is also made into ointments and soaps, and a glycerite is prepared.

On the very rare occasions of its internal use, its action resembles oil of tar. Dosage: 1 to 3 minims.

J. phoenicia is used in Europe to adulterate savin.