Medicinal Uses by Native Americans of the US and Canada
Thuja plicata, or Western Red Cedar, is a cultural keystone species for many Native American people of the Pacific North West of the United States and Canada; T. plicata is so important and provides so many products that native peoples of this region are often called "People of the Cedar", and the Kakawaka'wakw in particular call it "the tree of life" (Garibaldi and Turner 2004; Gunther 1945). Many Native American groups use it for crafting implements, structures, clothing, and ceremonial items as well as medicinally (Gunther 1945).
The Bella Coola of British Colombia treat a variety of symptoms with three common preparations of Thuja plicata: leaf decoctions, infusions of leaves, and, poultices of pounded bough tips and eulachon (candlefish) grease. Decoctions (and compound decoctions of powdered leaves) are used externally for internal pains such as stomach pain. While leaf infusions, and, pounded bough tip poultices applied, are both used externally for rheumatism, heart trouble and neck swelling. The two differ in that leaf infusions are also used for coughs, while the poultices can also be used for bronchitis and stomach pain. Soft bark is used like a bandage to cover wounds and skin applications (Moerman 1998).
In additional to the Bella Coola, many other groups overlap in the use of this plant to treat coughs and respiratory issues. The Makah and Nez Perce both use bough infusion, while the Skagit use leaf decoctions. Nez Perce also treat colds with bough infusions, which Cowlitz treat with decoctions of plant tips and roots. The Klallam (Clallam), natives of Olympic Peninsula , Washington and the southern shore of Vancouver Island Columbia, use decoctions of small branches for tuberculosis(Moerman 1998; Gunther 1945).
Other common uses of the plant are as a skin application, and as a solution to diarrea. Moxa (a dried herb substance burned on or near the skin) of the inner bark is used as a counter irritant for skin by the Haisla while the Kwakiutl use inner bark to make a poultice for application to carbuncles and use shredded bark to cauterize sores and swellings the of feet. The Colville use bough infusions of it as a solution for dandruff and scalp issues and for soaking arthritic and rheumatic joints, weak infusions are also taken for arthritis and rheumatism as the Bella Coola do. The Hanaksiala and Nez Perce both use leaves as antidiarrheals (Moerman 1998).
- Garibaldi, A. and N. Turner. 2004. Cultural keystone species: implications for ecological conservation and restoration. Ecology and Society 9(3): 1. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss3/art1/
- Gunther, Erna. 1945. Ethnobotany of western Washington. Seattle: University of Washington Publications in Anthropology 10(1):1-62.
- Moerman, Daniel E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Portland Oregon.
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