Eastern White Cedar – Thuja Occidentalis: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Tree of Life of Wild Plants

Table of Contents

In Anishinaabemowin, eastern white cedar is sometimes called giizhik, and also gi’jikan’dug meaning cedar-like, as it’s not a “true cedar”. This Tree of Life is both edible and medicinal.

One of the alternative names for eastern white cedar is swamp cedar as it likes to grow in damp woods. Another name is Tree of Life, which the white-tailed deer and a multitude of wild ones would wholeheartedly agree with. The white-tailed deer favor it for food and shelter.

Eastern White Cedar - Thuja Occidentalis
Eastern White Cedar – Thuja Occidentalis
(This young one could live for another 300 years, or perhaps more than quadruple that!)

Edible Uses of Eastern White Cedar

The inner bark can be collected in spring and eaten fresh or dried to use as a flour. However, like most trees, the inner bark is typically a starvation food source.

The needles and bark can be steeped to make a tea rich in vitamin C, like many of our local conifer trees, but skim off any oils that float to the top (see *Warnings below).

There’s a story here in Canada that back in the day Jacques Cartier cured his crew of scurvy with a white cedar tea under the herbal tutelage of the Mi’kmaq (pronounced “meeg mah”) First Nation. But also it could have been juniper, or spruce, or another evergreen. It’s up for debate.

Leaves Rich in Vitamin C and Calcium

Medicinal Uses of Eastern White Cedar

Eastern white cedar is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Lymphatic
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Antimicrobial and Diuretic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common uses include preventing scurvy and cough medicine. My personal favorite use is as a cleansing bathing water. (Link is to Creators Garden explaining this usage as a strong lymphatic system medicine. Creators Garden is one of my favorite herbal medicine bloggers, and he’s nearby!) I boil the leaves on my woodstove in the wintertime, which in and of itself is lovely, but then I use the hot cedar water to wash up.

Eastern White Cedar - Thuja Occidentalis
Eastern White Cedar – Thuja Occidentalis
Eastern White Cedar - Thuja Occidentalis
Eastern White Cedar – Thuja Occidentalis

Alternative Uses of the “Tree of Life”

The leaves and inner bark make dyes. I haven’t used them yet, so if anyone knows the resulting colors please comment! Thanks!

The boughs make handy brooms that also deodorize a house with their cedar fragrance. There are multiple uses inside the home. Outside the home, it’s often been utilized for fencing as it’s resistant to rot (which is also why it’s been used in the making of canoes and longhouses).

The outer bark of eastern white cedar can be used for weaving.

Growing Thuja Occidentalis

They are slow growers that prefer damp areas and limestone-rich soil. If you want to plant them, typically as hedges or windbreaks, be sure to plant them at least 6 feet apart as they will, slowly, get quite large and the roots will need that space to thrive. I find them mostly in swampy areas, full of mosses and ferns. Sometimes by the hundreds.


It’s a diuretic.

*Cedar oil is toxic at 120mg and can cause extremely low blood pressure, convulsions, and death.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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Trees of Ontario

An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (Llewellyn’s Sourcebook Series) (Cunningham’s Encyclopedia Series)

Forest Plants of Central Ontario

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