Thuja occidentalis L.
Arborvitae, Northern white cedar
Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.
- Folk Medicine
- Yields and Economics
- Biotic Factors
Ojibwa Indians are said to have made soup from the inner bark of the young
twigs. The twigs are used to make teas, perhaps more medicinal (for
constipation, headache) than culinary. Speaking of the gums, Captain John
Smith said, "We tryed conclusions to extract it out of the wood, but nature
afforded more gums than our arts." (Erichsen-Brown, 1979). The essential oil
is used in cleansers, disinfectants, hair preparations, insecticides, liniment,
room sprays, and soft soaps, sometimes an adulterant of oils of artemisia,
dalmation sage, and tansy. Powdered leaves are reported to kill flies in 2
hours, the vaporized leaf powder to kill ticks (C.S.I.R., 19481976). Wood
contains a heat stable antibiotic useful as a food preservative. Potawatomi
rolled up the bark into wads which served as torches. Deer browse the young
shoots. Sometimes grown as a Christmas tree, e.g. in India. Attractive for
hedges and windbreaks. The timbers were used to make the ribs in the Indians'
birchbark canoes (Erichsen-Brown, 1979). Valuable timber tree today, the
heartwood lightweight and decay resistant. Used for poles shakes, shingles,
According to Hartwell (19671971), the plant, usually as a tincture, is used in
folk remedies for benign skin tumors, cancers, condylomata (of penis and
vulva), excrescences, fungous flesh, neoplasms, papillomas, plantar warts,
polyps, tumors, and warts. Reported to be anaphrodisiac, diaphoretic,
diuretic, lactagogue, and laxative, arbor vitae is a folk remedy for burns,
colds, consumption, cough, debility, distemper, dysentery, dysmenorrhea, fever,
gout, headache, inflammation, malaria, paralysis, rheumatism, swollen
extremities, toothache, and worms (Duke and Wain, 1981). The charcoal, mixed
with bear gall, was introduced under the skin, after application, with needles
in early Indian acupuncture, which resulted in black tatoos. Chippewa pricked
the charcoal powder into the temples as an analgesic and used the leaves in
cough compounds. Hurons used the boughs for their bed as a snake repellant.
Menominee used in herbal steam and smudges for skin ailments and
unconsciousness; they decocted the inner bark for amenorrhea, and poulticed
powdered leaves onto swellings. Montagnai decocted the bruised twigs as a
diaphoretic. Ojibwa used the leaf decoction as an analgetic, antitussive,
depurative, and smoked objects and steamed themselves with the smoke or steam
as a ceremonial cleansing. Penobscot poulticed the leaves onto hands and feet,
and used for cancerous warts. Potawatomi treated the plant almost like a
panacea, and burned the leaves over the coals as medicine, ceremonial
purification, and to repel evil spirits (Duke, 1983c). Sources cited in
Hager's Handbook report that homeopathic doses are effective against animal and
plant viruses and that the plant affords protection against schistosomiasis.
Hager's Handbook also lists many homeopathic applications, e.g. amnesia,
angina, blepharitis, cholecystosis, condylomata, conjunctivitis, gonorrhea,
gout, melancholy, myalgia, neuralgia, otitis, pertussis, pharyngitis, pruritus,
rheumatism, rhinitis, trachitis, etc. (List and Horhammer, 19691979).
Seeds contain 15% oil. Heartwood contains b- and a-eudesmol, occidol,
and occidiol. Branches and attached leaves run from ca 0.31.0% essential oil,
15-year-old trees yielding 50% more than 30-year-old trees. Guenther lists as
major components d-a-pinene, d-a-thujone, 1-fenchone, 1-borneal,
acetic-, formic-, and isovaleric-acids. Hager's Handbook adds terpineol,
sabinene, camphene, camphor, valerianic acid, occidol, b-sitosterol,
quercitrin, rhodoxanthine (C40H50O2), 5.9% tannin, resins, mucilage, vit. C,
etc. (List and Horhammer, 19691979).
Poisonous cases of fatalities have resulted from use of the oil as
abortifacient (C.S.I.R., 19481976).
Medium sized, monoecious, evergreen tree. Bark gray-brown to reddish, fibrous.
Scales 1.54 mm long, some long pointed, some rounded, closely imbricate,
closely appressed or adnate to twigs, the small thickly-leaved branchlets flat.
Cones on the ends of branchlets, male cones ca 1 mm in diameter, shedding
pollen MarchApril (se US), female cones 12 cm long at maturity, sporophylls
closely imbricate, some minutely spine-tipped, shedding seeds SeptemberOctober
of 1st year; seeds broadly winged (Radford et al., 1968).
Reported from the North American Center of Diversity, arbor vitae, or cvs
thereof, is reported to tolerate frost, limestone, and slopes. While growing
both in swampland upland sites, it does not develop well on extremely wet or
Nova Scotia to Maine and westward to Minnesota and Manitoba; southward in
Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and New York; and locally in Appalachian Mountains
(Ag. Handbook 450, 1974).
Estimated to range naturally from Cool Temperate Dry to Wet through Boreal
Moist to Wet Forest Life Zones, arbor vitae is estimated to tolerate annual
precipitation of 6 to 15 dm, annual temperature of 5 to 13°C, and PH of 6.0
Seeds are extracted from large quantities of cones by 4-hour exposure to
internal-fan type kiln to ca 55°C and RH 38%. Seeds are fall sown with a
target of ca 650 seedlings/m2, the seeds covered 24 mm with soil.
Half-shade is recommended over the seedbed the first season and a mulch over
the seedlings. Horticultural cvs. are propagated by cutting and layering.
Guenther (1952) gives a picturesque account of the harvesting of some of the
eastern cedar forests. Two or three farmers form a team, cutting and
distilling the brush that grows on certain tracts. Usually a whole tree is
felled, and the ends of the branches with adherent leaves are trimmed off with
long heavy knives. Nothing is wasted; the wood serves as fuel, and even the
distilled (exhausted) material is dried and used as fuel. After one section
has been cleaned of cedar, the still and steam boiler are moved to another. It
may often be necessary to move several times in one season. Distillation takes
place in rather crude stills, the boiler or engine being the only modern piece
of equipment. The still box is usually constructed of spruce planking, tongued
and grooved,.the planks being fitted tightly together. Any crevices are calked
with oakum or other packing material so as to prevent the escape of steam. The
still box is closed with a cover raised or lowered with ropes and pulleys
attached to a long pole. A steam-connecting pipe leads to the condenser, made
from piping resembling an ordinary wall radiator. The condenser is enclosed in
a box with an open top into which water is allowed to flow, if possible by
gravity, or with the aid of either steam or hand pumps. The necessary steam is
generated by old boilers. Large cans are occasionally employed to catch the
distillate, and as the oil separates from the water it is scooped from the top.
The oil is often sold in local country stores. The storekeepers may have to
accumulate small lots from as many as ten individual producers before being
able to ship a single drum of oil. Local dealers, as well as the few producers
who have large quantities to offer, sell their oil to essential oil houses in
New York where the crude product must be treated before the oil can be offered
on the market
The following companies deal in cedar-leaf oil: D.W. Hutchinson & Co.,
Inc., 700 South Columbus Avenue, Mt. Vernon, New York 10550, (914) 6647272;
Lebermuth Co., P.O. Box 4103, South Bend, Indiana 46624, (219) 5462944;
Polarome Manufacturing Co., Inc., 22 Ericsson Place, New York, New York 10013,
(212) 3441120; and Teal's Evergreens, Inc., P.O. Box 85, Bark River, Michigan
49807, (906) 4669941.
According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), a 90-year-old stand has
standing biomass of 135 MT/ha. Both wood and spent distillate has been used
for fuel (see Harvest above).
Bagworms (Clania variegata) may strip the foliage unless treated with 2%
parathion dust (C.S.I.R., 19481976). The following are listed as affecting
arbor vitae: Aleurodiscus nivosus, Armillaria mellea, Ceratocystis piceae,
Ceratostomella sp., Clitocybe tabescens, Coniophora puteana, Corticium
galactinum, Didymascella thujina, Diplodia sp., Diplodia thujina, Fomes
annosus, F. pini, F. roseus, Fusarium solani, Gymnosporangium clavipes, G.
juniperi-virginianae, Hormodendrum microsporum, Hymenochaete corrugate, H.
tabacina, H. tenuis, Hysterium thujae, Lenzites saepiaria, Lophodermium thuyae,
Micropera tenella, Mycosphaerella conigena, M. pinsapo, Mytilidion thujarum,
Peniophora gigantea, Pestalotia funerea, Pestalotiopsis funerea, Phacidium
infestans, Phomopsis juniperovora, P. occulta, Phymatotrichum omnivorum,
Physalospora obtusa, Phytophthora sp., Pithya cupressina, Polyporus
adustus, P. balsameus, P. hirsutus, P. schweinitzii, P. versicolor, Poria
ferruginosa, P. papyracea, P. rufa, P. subacida, P. subiculosa, P. versipora,
P. weirii, Rhizoctonia solani, Schizophylium commune, Stamnaria thujae,
Trametes isabellina, and Valsa thujae (Ag. Handbook No. 165, 1960
and Browne, 1968). Also listed in Browne (1968) as affecting arbor vitae are:
Coleoptera: Phloeosinus aubei, P. canadensis. Hemiptera: Cinara
juniperi, C. tujafilina, Stomaphis quercus. Hymenoptera: Camponotus
spp., Neodiprion lecontei. Lepidoptera: Argyresthia aureoargentella,
A. freyella, A. thuiella, Coleotechnnites thujaella, Ectropis crepuscularia.
Mamallia: Alces alces, Erethizon dorsatum, Euarctos americanus,
Odocoileus virginianus. Nematodes include Criconemella lobata,
Hemicycliophora sp., Longidorus marimus, Paratylenchus sp.,
Pratylenchus penetrans, Rotylenchus robustus, R. uniformis, and
Tylenchorhynchus maximus (Golden, p.c. 1984).
Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
- Agriculture Handbook 165. 1960. Index of plant diseases in the United States.
- Agriculture Handbook 450. 1974. Seeds of woody plants in the United States.
Forest Service, USDA. USGPO. Washington.
- Browne, F.G. 1968. Pests and diseases of forest plantations trees. Clarendon
- C.S.I.R. (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research). 19481976. The wealth
of India. 11 vols. New Delhi.
- Duke, J.A. 1981b. The gene revolution. Paper 1. p. 89150. In: Office of
Technology Assessment, Background papers for innovative biological technologies
for lesser developed countries. USGPO. Washington.
- Duke, J.A. 1983c. Amerindian medicinal plants. Typescript.
- Duke, J.A. and Wain, K.K. 1981. Medicinal plants of the world. Computer index
with more than 85,000 entries. 3 vols.
- Erichsen-Brown, C. 1979. Use of plants for the past 500 years. Breezy Creeks
Press. Aurora, Canada.
- Guenther, E. 19481952. The essential oils. 6 vols. D. van Nostrand Co., Inc.
Toronto, New York, London.
- Hartwell, J.L. 19671971. Plants used against cancer. A survey. Lloydia 3034.
- List, P.H. and Horhammer, L. 19691979. Hager's handbuch der pharmazeutischen
praxis. vols 26. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
- Radford, A.E., Ahles, H.E., and Bell, C.R. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora
of the Carolinas. UNC Press, Chapel Hill.
Last update Friday, January 9, 1998 by aw