Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) comes from the red cedar, a species of juniper native to eastern North America from southeastern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and east of the Great plains. Its warm and woodsy aroma makes it a commonly used oil in aromatherapy.
Cedarwood comes from a tree bearing many names; red cedar, Virginian juniper, pencil cedar, and aromatic cedar being just a few of them. It’s considered a pioneer species, meaning it’s one of the first trees to repopulate eroded or damaged land. Among other pioneer species, it lives unusually long, sometimes standing for over 900 years.
Because of its propensity to thrive on forgotten land, the red cedar is often found in prairies, old pastures, along highways, and near recent construction sites. Where there is nothing, the red cedar grows.
It’s for that reason the red cedar is considered an invasive species, growing sometimes in spite and regardless of whether it is wanted. It’s fire-intolerant, however, and in the past has been controlled by periodic wildfires. Its low-hanging branches provide a ladder that allows a flame to engulf the whole tree, and in places with dense red cedar populations, the tree is often to blame for the rapid spread of wildfires.
The red cedar’s fragrant, soft wood is surprisingly durable. Because of this, fence posts are sometimes made from its wood. Its strong aroma keeps away moths, which is why closets are often lined with cedar to keep away cashmere-loving pests. In the past, the heartwood of the tree was used for the production of pencils. Over time, however, the supply has diminished and the wood of the incense-cedar has largely replaced it.
Among many Native American cultures, burning cedarwood is believed to expel evil spirits prior to healing ceremonies. Several tribes have also historically used the wood to demarcate agreed tribal hunting territories. In fact, that’s how the Louisiana city of Baton Rouge got its name; French traders named it to denote “red stick,” referring to the amber color of these juniper poles.
Steam distilled cedarwood oil contains a wide variety of terpenes, including Cedrol, alpha-Cedrene, and Limonene. These terpenes contribute to the botanical’s distinct woodsy scent. At AMASS, we use cedarwood in our Pseudo Citrine, Forest Bath, and Art of Staying In scents, where it lends a warm, cozy aroma.