Thuja: Overview

Alternative names: Eastern white cedar, northern white cedar, yellow cedar, tree of life, arborvitae, swamp cedar.

Thuja's main action is due to its stimulating volatile oil.

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This plant is commonly used in Chinese herbalism, where it is considered to be one of the 50 fundamental herbs.

History; Source

Native Americans of the eastern United States and Canada used thuja for generations to treat menstrual problems, headaches, and heart ailments.  Loggers drank tea made from white cedar twigs to relieve rheumatism.  During the 17th century, some people called the eastern white cedar the "tree of life," because they believed that its sap had healing powers.  In the late 1800s, the US Pharmacopoeia listed thuja as a treatment to stimulate the uterus and as a diuretic.

Thuja is an evergreen in the cypress family, native to eastern North America.  The tree is also grown in Europe as an ornamental plant.  The parts used in herbal remedies are the branches/stem and the tiny, flat, scale-like leaves, which contain the oil thujone.  Sometimes also used are the seeds and the root bark.

Leaves from the tree are harvested and dried.  Liquid extracts, tinctures, and tea made from thuja are taken internally.

Thuja oil and capsules are available in health food stores and over the Internet.

Function; Why it is Recommended

Both the leaves and the seeds contain an essential oil consisting of borneol, bornyl acetate, thujone, camphor and sesquiterpenes.  The leaves also contain rhodoxanthin, amentoflavone, quercetin, myricetin, carotene, xanthophyll and ascorbic acid.

Thuja is promoted as a treatment for many medical conditions, including cancer.  Some proponents claim that thuja decreases the toxic effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Herbalists prescribe thuja for the following:

  • Treating coughs and other respiratory ailments (including strep throat and respiratory distress related to congestive heart failure), and viral and bacterial infections; antiasthmatic
  • As a diuretic (to increase urination)
  • As an astringent, to "purify the blood," reduce inflammation, and cleanse the body of toxins
  • Sometimes together with antibiotics to treat bacterial skin infections and herpes sores; antibacterial
  • As an emmenagogue – to regulate (increase or decrease) menstrual flow
  • Hemostatic – to control internal bleeding (hemorrhages)
  • Rarely, to induce abortions in the early stage of pregnancy
  • As an antipyretic – to reduce fevers
  • As an antitussive – to reduce coughing e.g. bronchitis
  • As an expectorant – to clear phlegm by inducing coughing
  • As an emollient – to produce softer, warmer, moister skin
  • Other skin-related applications
  • As a parasiticide – against parasites
  • Stomachic – aiding and improving the condition of the stomach, also against bacterial dysentery
  • Improving hair growth; helping with premature baldness
  • Taken internally against mumps
  • Relieving arthritic pain
  • In seed form, taken internally for palpitations, insomnia, nervous disorders and constipation in the elderly
  • (The seeds) As a sedative – calming, reducing nervousness, distress and irritation
  • (The seeds) As an aperient – a mild laxative
  • The root bark is used in the treatment of burns and scalds
  • The stems are used in the treatment of coughs, colds, dysentery, rheumatism and parasitic skin diseases
  • In ointment form, applied to the skin for ailments such as psoriasis, eczema, vaginal infections, warts, muscular aches, and rheumatism.

There is little scientific evidence available to support these uses.

Some practitioners of Homeopathy recommend use of very dilute thuja, in pill or liquid form, for treating irritability, depression, sadness, impaired thinking, headache, warts, growths, rashes, runny nose, sores in the nose, mouth pain, toothache, gas, hemorrhoids, watery stool, enlarged prostate, gonorrhea, back pain, joint pain, bad dreams, tiredness, insomnia, fevers, shaking chills, muscle pain, and cancer.  Again, available scientific evidence does not strongly support these claims.


There is no standard dose of the herb.  Thuja ointment is applied directly to the skin.

Counter-Indicators and Warnings

Taken internally, the herb can cause serious side-effects, and may be toxic in large doses.  The essential oil, also known as cedar leaf oil, is not generally sold for internal use.  It is poisonous, and can also irritate or burn skin and eyes.

People with seizure disorders or gastrointestinal problems (such as ulcers or gastritis) should avoid thuja.  Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use this herbal treatment.

When properly prepared and dosed as dietary supplements, the thujone levels are reportedly below the toxic range.

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Thuja can help with the following:



Thuja internally and topically may help dramatically.  A typical dose is 10 drops of tincture bid taken orally.

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