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.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.”
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