Although it is commonly called cedar, Virginian cedarwood essential oil is in fact derived from a species of juniper – Juniperus virginiana. This tree and its wood, and the incense derived from its wood holds an important place in Northwest/Pacific Indian tradition. The Cherokee tell that cedar wood holds powerful protective spirits. Pieces of cedar wood are placed in medicine bags, and also above the doors of homes to ward off evil spirits. Cedar wood was also used to make totem poles and ceremonial drums. In ceremony and prayer, cedar is burned – and in common with other practices involving incense/smoke this is to carry the prayers to the Creator. In traditional and contemporary sweat lodges, cedar wood is used along with sage and other herbs such as sweetgrass, having a purifying function, and similarly cedar branches are used in house blessing ceremonies. It is interesting that the Pacific Northwest tribes say that not only does cedar drive away evil and negative energies but also brings in good energies.
Virginian cedarwood oil is distilled from the waste, powdered wood from sawmills, as the wood itself is an important commodity. The main use is in the manufacture of pencils, but it is also used in furniture manufacture, including the traditional ‘cedar chest’.
In aromatherapy, it is the essential oil from a true cedar – Atlas cedarwood – that is used in preference to that of Virginian cedarwood. This is possibly because of the mention in some texts that Virginian cedarwood is not recommended in pregnancy – although this is an unsupported caution. However, it is widely used in perfumery to impart woody notes in scented soaps and other toiletries. In artisan perfumery it is a useful top note, contributing soft, fresh, woody and faintly earthy characteristics, giving a very ‘natural’ sensation.
When you engage with the smell of Virginian cedarwood essential oil there are no real surprises – it really is reminiscent of the wood itself – with a gentle, fresh coniferous, slightly resinous, woody top, a more balsamic woody body and a dry, woody dryout. The scent will be ‘familiar’ to many of us, and is reminiscent of the forest environment too, so perhaps this is connected with its ability to promote a sense of resilience and inner strength. The scent can be likened to having an ‘inner anchor’, and can help in times of transformation, such as when redundant negative habits are being discarded and replaced with independence of mind and spirit.
Read tomorrow’s post to discover the properties of Bitter Orange.
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