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Western Red Cedar: Healing Tree

Western red cedar has been revered for thousands of years. Its versatility made the tree essential to Native people, prompting them to place it as a central part of their lives. The cedar tree represented the visible and invisible forces of life. They recognized the tree fed with the help of fungi from the nutrients in the soil. The trees drank water from underground streams that once were oceans – which were clouds. They understood the leaves feed on sunlight. They recognized the freshness of the forest air breathed out as oxygen and water-vapor. They watched quietly as birds, wind and rain spread the tree’s seeds; as insects and the wind pollinated the tree’s flowers; and, creatures broke down the fallen leaves into topsoil.

The great cedar tree became the metaphor for great wisdom. The cedar’s giving spirit provided people with food, shelter and medicine literally from the wooden cradle to the wooden coffin. Working with tools made of stone, bone or shell, craftsman carved canoes, totem poles, storage boxes and ceremonial masks from the generous wood. Mats, baskets and water-repellent clothing were shaped and woven from the inner bark.

Perhaps most importantly, western red cedar was employed medicinally by a number of native North American Indian tribes. Principally, they utilized two fundamental techniques for extracting the cedar’s elixirs. The some extracts were gotten by boiling the parts in water and straining the liquor, or parts were steeped as tea for infusion. It was these elixirs from powdered leaves that were used externally to treat various internal pains, including rheumatism. The leaf buds have been chewed in the treatment of toothaches, while an elixir of the buds has been used as a gargle.

A weak infusion has been drunk in the treatment of painful joints caused by rheumatism or arthritis and a poultice of the crushed bough tips and oil has been applied to the back and chest in the treatment of bronchitis, rheumatism and stomach pains. The boiled concoction of the boughs has been used as an antidandruff shampoo. A poultice of the inner bark has been used as a counter-irritant for the skin and poultice of the inner bark has been applied to carbuncles. Even the bark when pounded until it is as soft as cotton can be used to rub the face and has been used to bind wounds and as cover for wound dressings. Shredded bark can be used to cauterize sores.

Martin Luther said it best almost 500 years ago when asked what he would do on the last day of his life. He simply stated, "I would plant a tree."

About the Author: I love Western Red Cedar and have been using this amazing and legendary medium for over 40 years in construction and my art of carving personalized outdoor welcome signs. Find us at where we've been hand crafting personalized outdoor welcome signs since 1966!

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