Cedarwood Virginian Essential Oil

A young Cedar Virginian saplingThis particular type of cedarwood essential oil is known botanically as Juniperus virginiana, and strictly speaking this species is not considered a true cedar. As the botanical name indicates it is part of the genus Juniper, which belongs to the Cupressaceae family. There are several cedarwood essential oils extracted from trees of the Cupressaceae family, but few are used much in aromatherapy.

Cedarwood virginian essential oil is used extensively by the perfumery industry in fragrances for soaps, hair shampoos, aftershave lotions, men’s fragrances, deodorants, air fresheners, floor polishes, disinfectants and sanitation supplies. It is also used in food and drinks as a flavouring agent or enhancer.

Physical description

Also known as the Virginia cedar, Eastern red cedar and pencil cedar, Juniperus virginiana is native to the eastern United States and adjacent Canada. So far as essential oil production is concerned, United States is the sole producer.

It is a slow growing evergreen tree that can reach a height anywhere between 10 to 18 metres (33-60 ft) and displays a narrow conical habit. The fibrous shredding bark is reddish-brown or grey in colour with branches that are mostly horizontal, with a thin and scaling bark.

The needle-like green or blue-green leaves grow in pairs, and berries appear in spring that change colour as they mature, turning from a greenish-white to a dark blue-purple colour with a fine bloom in autumn. The common name for this tree is derived from the beautiful fragrant heartwood, which is a reddish colour and highly valuable to the furniture manufacturing industry because of its special virtues.

Traditional uses & folklore

Virginian cedarwood has long been known to possess natural moth repelling properties which have been employed in cedar chests, wardrobes and closets, and its poles are highly resistant to decay when used for fence posts because of their durability and longevity in damp, wet soil.

Native American tribes revered this tree along with other so-called ‘red cedars’ such as the Southern (J. virginiana var. silicicola) and Western red cedar (Thuja plicata). Tribes including Cheyenne, Blackfoot, Flathead, Crows, Nez Perce, Kutenai, and Sioux all employed parts of the tree for medicinal purposes.

Leaves, twigs, berries and bark of J. virginiana were used in decoctions taken internally to treat respiratory and urinary tract infections, asthma, colds, fevers, tonsillitis, pneumonia and to encourage menstruation.

Poultices of leaves and sprigs warmed on hot stones were also applied to treat rheumatic aches and pains, arthritis, backache and skin conditions. In later years these remedies were also used by the white settlers too, and later J. virginiana was included in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia.

The Tree of Life

Symbolizing the tree of life and known as the ‘medicine tree’, the wood was believed by some tribes to have been blood-stained by a powerful magician and it became sacred to them. It was burned in rituals, purification ceremonies and sweat lodges to drive away negative spirits and bring prophetic visions.

On a more practical every-day level, cedarwood strips were used to weave storage bags and finely twined mats or partitions, and sachets were used to protect ceremonial head-dresses from insects. The Cheyenne made flutes from the wood, but it appears it was the Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) that was most commonly used to make totem poles.


The prime source of wood today is the waste from cedar furniture manufacturing factories as well as tree stumps, chipped logs, shavings and sawdust. Cedarwood virginian essential oil is extracted by distillation and yields a slightly viscous, yellow-amber coloured essential oil. It has a fresh, slightly sweet, woody, pencil-like aroma, with a balsamic dry-out note that makes an excellent low cost fixative in perfumery.

At cool temperatures, crystals of cedrol often form in the essential oil, but this is quite natural and they will usually dissolve when the temperature returns to around 16 degrees centigrade.

Uses in aromatherapy

In aromatherapy, cedarwood virginian essential oil is used to treat muscular aches and pains, painful joints, rheumatism and arthritis. It is particularly beneficial when blended with Roman or German chamomile essential oils when used in massage.

Although milder in action than juniper berry, it still has an influence on the kidneys and bladder, and creates an effective synergy when they are all blended together for use in the bath or for massage. Its astringent and antiseptic properties are ideal for treating acne and oily skin conditions as well as coughs and colds.

Considered a base note, cedar virginian essential oil blends well with bergamot, chamomile roman, clary sage, cypress, frankincense, jasmine, juniper berry, neroli, patchouli, petitgrain, rose, rosemary, sandalwood, vetiver, ylang yang. It works particularly well for blends where rose or jasmine predominates.

Many aromatherapy books state that cedarwood virginian oil is an abortifacient, without providing any evidence in support of this claim. As in many other cases, this information originated in older herbal references where it was confused with the related species J. sabina, which is a known abortifacient if taken internally.

However, it is not common knowledge that essential oil of J. virginiana is an approved flavouring ingredient, and this would not be possible if it was considered unsafe in any way.

See Quinessence Cedar Virginian Essential Oil.

Copyright © Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd 2010. Written by

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2 Replies

  1. Geoff Lyth says:

    Hi Elisabeth,

    Yes, we do have Cedrus atlantica essential oil. You’ll find it here;

  2. Elisabeth says:

    Do you have cedrus atlantica Oil?

Did you know?

'Texas' cedarwood essential oil (Juniperus ashei) resembles the Virginian oil in both aroma and chemistry, and because it is cheaper it is often passed-off as Virginian oil to an inexperienced essential oil trader.

In terms of world production, Texan, Chinese and Virginian oils are the leaders with both the former and latter being produced in the United States.

Cedar virginian berries

Cedar virginian berries

Cedarwood Virginian grows on dry hills or deep swamps from Maine westward to the Rocky Mountains, and from Vermont to the Gulf of Mexico.

It is most abundant and vigorous in the southern areas.

Cedar virginian bark

Cedar virginian bark

The bark of Virginian cedarwood peels off in strips that were woven into mats and used to make fine lacings and ties by Native Americans.

The interior wood of the tree is a reddish color and considered to be highly valuable on account of its great durability.

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