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The Art and Craft of Distilling Western Red Cedar

As summer transitions into autumn, the fall equinox just marked the culmination of the agricultural season, when crops are gathered in abundance. But for me, now is the busiest time for harvesting and distilling some sacred plants for you!

My most recent distillation was of the Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), also known as scented or aromatic cedar. Actually, Thuja plicata is not a true cedar. It belongs to a cypress family native to the Pacific Northwest of North America, including junipers and redwoods. These tall giants of the North Pacific Coast groves grow next to giant sequoias and majestic redwoods. Imagine a forest drenched in the golden hues of the setting sun, where the scent of cedar trees dances on the breeze. My vision was to capture this essence—a piece of the great outdoors bottled for you.

Deeply sweet, uplifting, and resinous, Western Red Cedar is a sacred plant used extensively by native people of the Pacific Northwest, along with sweetgrass, sage, and tobacco. The tree is often referred to as “the cornerstone of northwest coastal Indian culture.” Among the names given to it were “tree of life” and “life giver,” "grandmother," "long life maker," and "rich woman maker," and some tribes called themselves “People of the Cedar.”

I was attracted to this sacred tree during my recent visit to Sonoma. And spent a perfect afternoon in the ritual of asking permission and collecting branches I brought to the Central Coast for distillation.

Our journey begins with a traditional copper alembic, a vessel that embodies centuries of wisdom and craftsmanship. This beautiful apparatus isn't just a distillation tool; it's a piece of history, connecting us to the alchemical traditions of the past. With its graceful curves and gleaming surface, it cradles the essence of Western Red Cedar, awaiting the transformative touch of fire and water.

Distillation is an art form that blends the four elements: Earth (the plant itself), Water (as it flows through the cooling coil), Fire (the heat that extracts the oils), and Air (guiding the aromatic vapors).

The intricate dance between elements creates a hydrosol. This fragrant elixir captures the very spirit of the Northern Pacific forest. It's not just a scent; it's an experience—an invitation to reconnect with Nature's secrets of beauty, vitality, and calmness.

In her book Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy, author Suzanne Catty says:

"Hydrosols contain all of the plant in every drop…
"Here we have the water-soluble components, the essential oil molecules, the very fluid that was flowing through the plant cells when the plant was collected. It's all there in a matrix of water that is so much more than water…"

I distill on traditional copper alembic, which is a preferred distillation method when you want an exquisite aromatic hydrosol. The entire area smells so divine when the aromatic steam condenses into a liquid! It attracts bees, butterflies, and curious neighbors who gather around the still attracted and enchanted by the aroma.

Traditionally, cedar is burned during prayers, so the smoke will carry the prayers to the Creator, especially in sweat lodges. Western Red Cedar is also burned to drive out negative energies and usher in positive energies to purify homes and human energy field. It is meant to bring protection and positivity. This makes it excellent for clearing and refreshing spaces.

The scent of Western Red Cedar has a therapeutic, comforting, and relaxing effect on the mind. This mentally calming and cleansing aromatherapeutic incense uplifts your mood like walking through a green forest on a breezy day. Inhaling or spraying it topically helps release the tension from your muscles and gets rid of stress, which is why it is popularly used during aromatherapy.

Coastal Native Peoples use Western Red Cedar leaf and bark for various illnesses. The leaves were a popular internal and external medicine for painful joints. For this reason, I chose this hydrosol as a base for my new topical magnesium oil spray. Now, it's your turn to experience its magic.

Western Red Cedar hydrosol is naturally balancing and protective, bringing moisture to the skin. It is a delicate, woodsy, spicy, calming, uplifting, and cleansing scent, making it an ideal bedtime or meditation room spray.

Western Red Cedar is a powerful antimicrobial. Reflect on where it lives: cool, wet forests where fungi and molds thrive. Potent essential oils are released when you scratch cedar leaves or cut the wood. These oils are cedar's medicine to repel insects, mildew, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Our ancestors discovered this long ago and used cedar's treatment in and on themselves to ward off the pathogens.

How to Use Western Red Cedar Hydrosol:

  1. Skin Care: Spritz the hydrosol on your face as a refreshing toner or gentle cleanser.

  2. Natural Deodorant and Aftershave: Incorporate it into your daily routine for an honest, woodsy fragrance with antimicrobial properties.

  3. Aromatic Mist: Spritz a fine mist of cedar hydrosol in your living spaces to create a calming atmosphere and ward off negative energy.

  4. Energy Cleansing and Meditation: Spray around yourself in a circular motion to purify your aura, calm your mind, and prepare for a deep meditative state.

  5. Cleanse Yoga Matt: Spray on a yoga mat and wipe with a clean, dry cloth to disinfect and bless your yoga prop.

  6. Aromatherapy: Add a few drops to your bath for a relaxing soak or in a diffuser for a peaceful ambiance.

Here is what Stephanie shared about her experience:

I have very sensitive skin, so most drugstore remedies are toxic for my skin. I also get strong allergic reactions to certain bug bites, such as mosquitoes. Recently, I had a very swollen and heated reaction to a spider bite. I used Maitri Verde's Cedarwood hydrosol that evening, which made a huge difference! Repeated applications relieved the heat. By the next morning, the swelling had reduced considerably. Usually, that difference takes multiple days, but with the help of cedar, I felt improvement in the first 24 hours.

Rediscover the beauty and healing of Western Red Cedar and let it infuse your life with tranquility. This is my invitation to you to embrace the art of distillation and the wonders of nature's wisdom.

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