Western Red Cedar Oil is one of my favorite plants to work with. Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) smells amazing, and is abundant throughout the Pacific Northwest. It was called the “tree of life” by coastal Pacific Northwest Native American tribes, renowned for it’s strength, healing, and spiritual power. Tribes in this region used cedar to build homes, make rain hats, and construct a wide variety of useful things. Cedar is considered to be very cleansing, and boughs can be used as body brushes, or in the bath. You can bundle cedar in your bathroom, and inhale the wonderful vapors that are created when cedar is combined with steam. Cedar is both anti-fungal and antiseptic.
Cedars grow all around my home, and in large stands along the creek. Western Red Cedar likes the rainy temperate climate of Cascadia, the wet soil conditions of a wetland, and company- trees often grow in groups with other cedars. We have a stand of 9 Western Red Cedar trees in our garden that we planted about 6 years ago. We have regularly and generously amended the soil around them with chipped wood and leaves, which has improved the soil tremendously by increasing fungal mychorrhizae and overall biological activity. Our trees are very healthy, and have grown many feet since we planted.
When harvesting cedar, I first approach the tree, stand near it, and breathe deeply, taking the aroma of the trees. Burning something, like a sage smudge or a little bit of homegrown tobacco is useful, as smoke is useful in communicating with plants on a spirit level. With smoke in the air, I let cedar know my intentions to harvest medicine for myself and to share with others. I offer gratitude for its gifts, and an intention to do everything I can to help Cedar continue thriving in my garden.
Now, time to harvest. Cedar tips can be harvested any time of year, but I especially like to harvest in the springtime, because this is when bright green new growth begins. I have a feeling that the energy in this new growth makes the best medicine.
When harvesting, I select the tips carefully. I don’t take an excessive amount from any one tree, I don’t take entire branches, and I do not select the primary growth tips of the cedar’s branches. It’s a partnership between cedar and I, and by watching it over the years I can be sure that my efforts are not creating a negative impact. Even though it’s abundant, this mindful and careful harvesting is a meditation.
After harvest, the fresh cedar leaves are dried. They can dry loosely in a paper bag, or be more rapidly and evenly dried on screens out of direct sunlight with ventilation. A food dehydrator is the perfect place.
I use Cedar as one powerful ingredient in Mickelberry Gardens Soothing Salve. This salve is handcrafted with intention, and is healing for a wide range of skin ailments.