Western Red Cedar: Anti-Fungal Ally

When a friend texted asking if I knew of anything she could use to treat a skin rash, several herbs came to mind. When she told me it had already been diagnosed as fungal in origin (specifically, hers is called tinea versicolor), I thought for a moment, and then came the aha moment: Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata!

Western Red Cedar is naturally resistant to rot, a trait that has made it a traditional choice for canoes and woven bark clothing among indigenous people of this region. The same chemicals that keep the wood safe from mold work against fungal infections on human skin, too. When topically applied, the tincture can be used to treat athlete’s foot, ringworm, and much more.

Cedar bark

Luckily for my friend, fall is an ideal season to make a tincture of the leaves from this tree. The tincture recipe is 1 part fresh leaves to 2 parts alcohol-water menstruum (I use 100 proof alcohol).*

The Western Red Cedar lives in moist lowlands up to mid elevation across the western half of Oregon, northwest California, most of Washington state, and up into Alberta, B.C. and Alaska. It is very common in the city of Portland and is found both in our wilderness areas and in the city itself. To identify this tree, look for a thick coniferous evergreen with lacy, fan-like leaves made of flat scales and peel-y red-brown or grayish bark.

Folks who have taken my medicines tell me they are surprised at how quickly they work and how effective they are — usually people see dramatic improvement within 24 hours, whereas tinctures from grocery stores seem to take longer — and I think this has to do with my relationship to the plants, whom I deeply respect and spend time with even when not harvesting. When I decided to make Western Red Cedar medicine, I knew I wanted to visit a particular tree who lives at a local neighborhood park. She has a strong presence which I experience as a regal loving kindness. Some people call her the Tree of Life but to me her name is Mama. “Thank you, Mama,” I say when I harvest her leaves.

Usually I like to let plant medicines extract for four to six weeks before bottling a tincture, but as this is an urgent need, I waited only two weeks, which is the minimum. My friend will apply it topically to her rash two to three times per day for a week until it is healed, as per Michael Moore’s recommendations in “Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West.”

Cones / Photographer unknown

Cones / Photographer unknown

Western Red Cedar has other applications besides the topical ones I mentioned, from yeast infections to chest congestion and weaving materials. What have you used this medicine for? Please share your experience in the comments.

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11 thoughts on “Western Red Cedar: Anti-Fungal Ally

  1. First I’d like to say what a wonderful site you have created! I live in Colorado now but I am from Washington State…some plants are the same…many are different. What childhood memories your edible plant list brings up!!! Lovely.! Cedar….what a majical and wise tree…such a Mothering energy…Crone like. I grew up on a farm in Washington playing in them and talking to them. I have a special Cedar friend there and I think of her often. Here’s to my Great Mother Tree Friend !!! I hope she is well. <3

  2. Pingback: Wild Beer on Tap: Scotch Broom & Cedar Leaves | First Ways

    • Hi Douglas, Good question! It actually turned out that she had misdiagnosed herself and the rash was actually an allergic reaction, not tinea. She found this out after seeing a doctor. (I am not a doctor and did not diagnose her — she came to me saying she had tinea so I made a tinea remedy).

  3. Ringworm patches form in a circular shape. The patch has clear defined red edges and a center of skin color. The name worm is misleading because no worm has anything to do with this disease. The fungus finds the groin area moist and warm and that is ideal for it to multiply. You can get the infection by touching somebody else’s ringworm, sharing towels, etc. animals also spread this disease. If you touch an animal suffering from ringworm and then scratch your groin area the fungus will infect you.’

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  4. Thank you for sharing. Ive been spending some really quiet and lovely time with a mama red cedar in our neighborhood, and today I harvested some leaves, Im curious about the 2parts alcohol water menstruum. If I’m using 100 proof alcohol do I use one part of that and then one part water or just 2 parts of the 100 proof alcohol?
    Light and love,

    • Hey there Liberty,

      Yeah, I’d do 2 parts alcohol in that case, but I’d make sure to splash in a little water as well because water is also a great solvent that extracts medicine. Alcohol + water together are better at doing that than either one alone.

      Blessings on your adventure!

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