On the banks of the Nile in Upper Egypt, stands the temple of Edfu, an astoundingly preserved temple dedicated to the falcon god Horus. If it weren’t pointed out by their guides, guests, distracted by the size of this holy place, might not notice an inconspicuous wedge of cedarwood nestled between the bricks. It once formed part of a gargantuan pair of ornately carved doors which leading to the most sacred shrine of the temple. The wood remains intact more than two thousand years after the priests snuffed out their last incenses; the temple having been completed in 47BC.
Cedar played a vital part in the religious experience of an Ancient Egyptian. According to aromatherapist Shirley Price, cedarwood extraction was a primitive precursor to the distillation methods we see today. Wood chippings were placed into a clay pot which was then heated. Wool was scrunched up over the cedar; as warmth released aromatic molecules from the wood they were captured in the wool. They were then squeezed out, separated off and then used to embalm the dead. Sarcophagi, created to protect mummies in the afterlife, were intricately carved from cedar because of its unsurpassed resistance to rot, and priests revered the rich, red wood’s powerful ability to heighten awareness of the spiritual realm. Scholars believe that temple doors in every temple were fashioned from cedar to enrich and magnify devotee’s awareness of their gods.
Great warships and temples were formed from its luxurious and sacred trunks, famously including, King Solomon’s Temple. Its tall, straight timbers made the ideal medium for building something gargantuan and impressive. Cedar was considered the most suitable gift, carefully chosen, to glorify the gods. In fact, in the ancient Sumerian text of the Epic of Gilgamesh we are told Noah burned cedarwood and myrtle in gratitude to Heaven for sparing his life from the flood. The text reassured us “The gods were pleased.”
Given its extensive use, one could be forgiven for imagining cedarwood was in large supply, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There were no tall trees growing in Ancient Egypt, so the Cedars of Lebanon had to be imported in huge numbers from a nomadic merchant tribe of the day known as the Phoenicians. These transactions made the Phoenicians very rich indeed. Demand was high and these tradesmen were happy to do everything they could to meet supply. In those days the magnificent trees grew in lush, thick forests, high upon mountainsides between 4-6,000 ft. Pilgrims would traverse from miles afar simply to breathe in the perfume of the Holy Forest as they prayed.
But the resplendence of a tree like a cedar comes from many, many years standing still in the ground and gradually, with no trees being planted to take their place demand started to outstrip supply. Only a few trees now remain of the Cedars of God, which are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
So, unsurprisingly given its clear spiritual actions, cedarwood has become one of the aromatherapists most dependable oils for calming and focusing the mind. But, given the precariously low number of cedars of Lebanon, it is only right that we should draw from other sources entirely. Oddly, most cedarwood essential oil isn’t cedarwood at all. It is taken from the trees of the Cuppressus (Cypress family) where Cedar is actually from the Pinacea (Pine) family. It is important to clearly read the Latin name to know which oil you are using. There are five different possibilities to cause us the usual aromatic confusion that using essential oils often brings.
- Cedarwood Atlas - Cedrus atlantica
- Cedarwood Virginian - Juniperus virginiana
- Cedarwood Himalayan - Cedrus deodara
- Cedarwood Texan - Juniperus Mexicana
- Arbor Vitae – Thuja picata
Another ancient name for Cedar is Arbor vitae, literally “Tree of Life”. Arbor vitae oil is taken from an American/Canadian Red Cedar, but the tree is not actually a cedar either, it’s a Thuja. Neither, strictly speaking are cedarwood. Virginian or Texan cedarwood, they are varieties of juniper! That said, each share very similar properties and actions with cedarwood oil. To all intents and purposes for aromatherapy, especially for use in a diffuser the “Cedarwood” oils are interchangeable.
Terroma oil is Cedarwood atlas, the oil which has the highest levels of the chemical constituent sesquiterpenes of any oil, measuring at between 95-98% depending on species and country of origin. These sesquiterpenes are miniscule molecules, so tiny they are able to traverse the intricate fibres of the blood brain barrier and directly affect the brain. This is extraordinary medicine. Here, they relax and calm the mind.
The word Cedar is an Arabic word meaning “Power” and indeed this is the steadfast assurance of the tree. Its effects are dramatic and fast acting, calming aggression, as if smothered by a blanket, and relaxing emotional dependency. It is a deeply empowering elixir. Cedarwood calms restless anxiety and soothes frayed nerves. Its fragrance conceals magical keys of confidence and self-assurance. It fosters feelings of security and is vitally important as an oil for the home as it builds the foundations of deep friendships there.
Valerie Ann Worwood describes the Cedarwood personality as a very self-assured person. Life seems very easy to them, they are happy and outgoing, and everything comes very effortlessly to them. They are pragmatic and practical, and they tend to be the person everyone in the family turns to. They are very sensible and reliable people and using cedarwood regularly imbues this new personality. Essentially, cedarwood has a very masculine energy, but nevertheless is a great healer for just as many women.
From a mind body spirit perspective, cedarwood is an extremely valuable oil, since so many illnesses derive from negative emotions that have lodged and remain in the tissues. As memories refuse to leave, they affect our outlook on life, causing tension, high blood pressure, depression and inflammation; toxic feelings soon develop into a time bomb of disease. We still don’t really understand how cedarwood encourages these feelings to move in, it's just very clear when we see the reactions and changes in patients, that it most certainly do.
In the Himalayas, Buddhist monks have always used cedarwood to calm and still their minds in meditation to enhance strength and certainty in their faith. The fragrance centers their minds, focuses them, and brings clarity to their insights. With cedarwood, no past exists, neither no future, only the heartbeat of the present moment, and that is utterly entrancing magic, refreshing, and sustaining. Stilling the conscious mind, it liberates the subconscious, dealing with the heartache and flushing it out of the body. It is a particularly useful oil for body work, massage and acupressure-aromatherapy that open the channels and release these stuck emotions.
Where the watchword of frankincense would be “comforting” cedarwood would best be described as “liberating”. It loosens the bonds of death, allowing us to grieve, gently and fluidly. Indeed, Ancient Egyptians seemed to consider it a vital rite passage to their new existence in the afterlife.
One of the most famous of the Egyptian myths is how the god Set was jealous of his more popular brother Osiris. Osiris, a bit of a rock star, was beloved by his people and his breath-takingly beautiful sorceress sister wife, the goddess Isis. So, finally Set had had enough of feeling second best, so deciding to take drastic action against the king, threw a huge and impressive banquet in Osiris’s honor. He sumptuously carved a cedarwood box, created to precise measurements of Osiris, taken as he had slept. With hundreds of people watching at the party, Set challenged his brother to try out the gorgeous casket for size. Naturally, it fitted snugly, so when the lid snapped shut, there was not opening it again and Set released the locked coffin into the Nile. The story continues with Isis finding the coffin embedded in a tree, and retrieving it. Then Set finding out, cutting Osiris up into 14 pieces and the great goddess spending years collecting up parts and creating a gold phallus to replace one eaten by a fish but…
Imagine that gentle drifting of the casket in the water, set afloat and taken on the current. As you breathe in cedarwood, you are released on that same drifting sensation, calm despite the bizarre nature of any situation. This is most certainly so.
Enigmatically, cedarwood releases the mind from the body, so is spectacular for people suffering stress related disease. The mind calms and thus the skin/muscles /heart are liberated from the reactions of pain.
Just as ancient priests used cedarwood to bring them closer to spirit and to protect them from the energies of harm, so today aromatherapists use cedarwood to consecrate amulets and to cleanse magical tools like their crystals. Empathic and sensitive souls enjoy the protection of cedarwood essential oil as it wards off attentions of negative people. It allows them to distance themselves and liberates them energetically from parasites seeking to devour their souls. It is a wonderful oil to calm the spirits of the bullied; it’s extremely gratifying to watch them gradually get to their feet and slowly find their voices again.
Essential oils tend to have 15 minutes of fame and then people become fascinated with the effects of another, as science uncovers ever more spectacular actions of an oil. I feel like we are living through cedarwood’s fifteen minutes now, as every beard oil advert declares its friendship with the tree. Rightly so, as cedarwood encourages hair to grow more thickly and lustrous, but there is also something about the lumberjack appearance of the full beard that makes me smile, for he too, independent in the forest, tranquil and peaceful and that is very much a cedarwood spirit too.
The cedar tree, tall, strong, and steadfast, so rich with oil that insects and moths all decide to keep their distances; is calm, unhurried by time. Imagine those huge Egyptian ships, safe, sturdy and protecting against the buffeting of the waves. Cedarwood keeps us calm, steady and unconcerned by the eye of the storm. Here we understand the deep healing of the oil; time has not dominion, the journey will take as long as it takes. Throughout time priests and royalty have chosen cedarwood as their security even against the horror of death and fear of the wrath of gods. These are the magnitude of the mental trials healed by cedarwood essential oil.
Physically, cedarwood supports healthy skin repair, but perhaps those travelers who prayed in the Holy Forest best recognized its properties enjoying its liberating affects on breath. It opens, relaxes, and soothes bronchial tubes supporting healthy respiration.
Blending Note: Base, this makes a gorgeous rich fixative in blends
Character: Woody, Liberating, Soothing, Grounding, Absorbent, Distancing & Immersive.
Top Notes: Spices and citruses
Heart Notes: Herbaceous notes like rosemary, basil or oregano and florals like neroli, rose or jasmine
Base Notes: Sandalwood, Myrrh & Spikenard
Maximum Dilution: 3%
Cautions: Not suitable for use during pregnancy.
How do you use Cedarwood Essential Oil in the Bath?
Be mindful of the precious nature of this oil. It is sacred, spiritual and protecting. It empowers and reassures in times of horror, worry and deep sadness. Five drops in a bath is wonderful for grounding and centering at the eye of the storm.
How Do You Use Cedarwood Essential Oil in A Diffuser?
Cedarwood is a base note fixative, so lingers for a while, but still you will need three or four drops in an evaporator to throw the fragrance throughout the entire room.
To calm and relax the family and build a strong unit, perhaps blend with a drop of lavender to soothe fractious tension, or orange for a lovely convivial atmosphere.
In the bedroom Cedarwood aids sleep but also reassures and tightens relationships that seem worried and distracted. Sexually, it is extremely useful for women who cannot release themselves into oblivion because distracting thoughts keep derailing pleasure.
Cedarwood, like frankincense too, is a gentler, more reassuring alternative to eucalyptus for tiny tots with coughs and colds.
How do You Use Cedarwood Essential Oil in Massage?
Cedarwoods three main areas of action are on the mind, the respiratory system and the skin. Back, shoulder and neck massages all enjoy the grounding, relaxing and liberating effects of cedarwood. Dilute one drop into a tablespoon of carrier oil.
It also has a wonderfully tonic effect on the scalp, soothing itching and soreness and reducing dandruff and greasy hair.
Dilute one drop of cedarwood into a tablespoon of sesame oil and warm very slightly. Massage into the scalp gently then wrap the head in a warm towel and rest for twenty minutes. Wash out with shampoo, rinse, and repeat as necessary.
Clearly, for scalp problems it is beneficial to add cedarwood to all your hair products to increase their healing capacities.
What Do You Use Cedarwood Essential Oil for In Creams and Lotions?
Cedarwood supports healthy skin and respiratory function so we add it to open the airways and perhaps combine with one drop frankincense, one drop eucalyptus and one drop tea tree just in case we want to boost immunity too.
For skin, cedarwood heals itchy, flaky, and sore skin, but also calms the emotional effects triggering skin flare ups.
How do you use Cedarwood Essential Oil in Rollerballs and Inhalers?
Remember that cedarwood personality? Gradually step into those moccasins by creating your own bespoke empowerment perfume to liberate you for your nerves and fears. Use cedarwood as your base, then perhaps orange to uplift your mind. Orange fixes a smile and helps you fake it till you make it! If you really want to kick*ass power, add it to sweet basil too. However, the combinations and permutations of what you could use are endless based on your own experiences and desired results.
Feel free to use rollerballs and inhalers together. Each have their own special skills. Use rollerballs anywhere on your body, although the inside of the wrist gives speedy access to the veins and circulation. Once they are on, they will do their work without you having the remember to reapply too often. Inhalers give a fast shock to the nervous system, immediately accessing the limbic system and reminding it to calm, slow down and settle.
In an aromatic world where the greatest healers like rose, jasmine, neroli are prohibitively expensive, cedarwood throws a lifeline to poor worn out souls. For just a small amount of money you can bring sanctity and sanity to a mind too anxious or saddened to smile. Let worries and woes drift away with the help of cedarwood essential oil.
Author: Elizabeth Ashley, AKA The Secret Healer
Elizabeth Ashley is The UK Director of National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy and overseas speaker for the International Federation of Aromatherapists, also the author of 20 books about aromatherapy including 12 Amazon category number one best sellers, as well as being a regular contributor to five professional trade journals.