Cedar is one of my favourite trees. I love to chew on the tips when I am out walking, I love making cedar tea and cedar foot-baths, and I love infusing it into oil for external applications.
To gather your own cedar for medicine making, you first have to be absolutely sure you are identifying the right tree. Cedar is pretty easy to distinguish from other conifers, so it is a perfect tree to start with.
There are two types of cedar that are used in much the same way and depending on where you live, you will be gathering;
Eastern White Cedar – Thuja occidentalis or Western Red Cedar – Thuja plicata. The two can be used interchangeably.
- Tree Identification Book
- A trusted friend or guide
- A great APP
There are a number of great tree identification books available, so bring one along and key out the tree. I recommend:
Tree Finder, by May Theilgard Watts. It’s very simple and it’s tiny so it can easily fit in your pocket or pack. There is a companion book as well,
Winter Tree Finder. They are less than $10.00 each, and it is nice to have both.
TREES OF NORTH AMERICA: A GUIDE TO FIELD IDENTIFICATION, by C. Frank Brockman
It is best if you can find a book that is specific to your area.
A Trusted Friend
Another great idea is to go out gathering with someone who knows their trees. Nothing beats being informed by an expert. I use my tree key a lot, but if I am out with someone who knows their way around the woods, it’s just so much easier, plus they will usually be able to share with you little tricks they have learned for identifying, and remembering how to ID a tree or plant.
A Great I.D. App
There are a few great APPS available, I have just started using “Picture This”, it costs just under $50.00 CAD for one year. It’s pretty fun, really quick, and super handy. I find when I use the App, I don’t remember any details the way you would when you use a key or you are shown by someone who knows, so save it for quick references and don’t rely on it heavily. Picture This App uses a lot of data so I take nice clear pictures with my camera and then i.d. them with the app when I am on wifi.
The first thing to focus on are the needles or leaves. Look for scaly, green leaves, that are flat – like this:
Next look to see if there any cones on the tree. It should have many 1/2 inch cones – like this:
Next, take a look at the bark. Cedar bark is reddish brown and looks like this:
When you harvest cedar, you are actually stimulating it’s growth. I like to think of it as pruning, and caring for the tree. It grows so abundantly around my area, it is easy to pick from several trees. You want to gather the tips. I use scissors or secateurs to cut the tips. You will find your basket fills up pretty fast.
Everyone has their own special way of doing this. When I enter the forest, or even my back yard to gather plants, I walk in thankfulness. Each plant has a special purpose, a gift it shares with us. Knowing this fills me with great thankfulness. Walking in this respectful way is important when we gather medicine.
Some people give tobacco, some people talk or pray, others sing. Find your own unique way to give thanks for the medicine you are gathering and honour the tree or plant with whatever gift comes natural to you.