Thuja is a lofty tree that often grows up to a height of anything between 30 feet and 60 feet having horizontal branches and green needles that resemble scales. Thuja is a fragrant perennially growing tree having small flowers that appear at branch terminals. The male blossoms of thuja have a deep brown hue, while the female flowers are yellow green in color.
Several indigenous tribes of America held the thuja also called arbor vitae as a remedy for headaches, fever, swollen hands, coughs as well as rheumatic problems. In effect, these people also burned thuja in the form of a smoky fire (smudge) for the aroma of the tree as well as to keep mischievous sprites at bay. During the 19th century, the eclectic herbalists (herbal medicine practitioners who collected their remedies from various sources) employed thuja in the form of a medication to cure various health conditions, including rheumatism, bronchitis and also uterine cancer. In effect, there was a time when thuja was also used to cure the side effects of taking smallpox vaccination.
In ancient times, people burned the fragrant wood of thuja trees while performing sacrifices. The term ‘thuja' has its origin in the Latin expression of the Greek word ‘thero' denoting ‘to sacrifice'. In Egypt, several species of thuja were used by ancient people to embalm the dead. French botanist Carolus Clusius named the tree as arbor vitae, which in Latin means the ‘tree of life', after he saw one tree that was brought to France from Canada. The indigenous people of both Americas employed thuja for making basket, canoes as well as perfumes. At times, they also simmered the thuja twigs to prepare a broth in times of famine when other foods were deficient or not available. Oriental thuja (botanical name Platylactus orientalis) has been a very popular plant in China for several thousand years. In fact, people in China cultivated thuja both for religious purposes as well as an ornamental tree.
The native people of America used thuja to treat different health conditions, including cough, gout, rheumatism, scurvy, malaria as well as menstrual problems. Thuja contains a volatile oil that works in the form of a tonic, an irritant and also a diuretic. Thuja essential oil is used to prepare a lotion that is applied topically to alleviate symptoms of arthritis and joint pains. It may be noted that although the parts of this tree that are used for remedial purposes are toxicologically not detrimental, a natural compound present in thuja and called thujone may be poisonous. In fact, ingestion of thujone may result in nausea, vomiting, and agonizing diarrhea and, in some instances, may even cause death. Therapeutically, thuja is employed to treat infections of the respiratory tract along with antibiotics, especially to treat skin infections caused by bacteria as well as Herpes simplex. Practitioners of homeopathic medicine use thuja safely to ease headaches as well as to treat colds, eye inflammations and warts.
It has been proved that thuja possesses antiviral actions and, hence, this herb is very frequently employed to treat polyps and warts. In fact, medical preparations with thuja are recommended for internal as well as external use to cure both the conditions mentioned here. In addition, thuja also forms a part of the regime for curing cancer, particularly cancer of the uterus. A very useful expectorant as well as decongestant medication is prepared with thuja, which may be given to patients suffering from infections of the respiratory tract and severe cases of bronchitis. Thuja is a beneficial herb for women as it promotes menstruation and may be administered to women enduring delayed menstrual periods. However, it is advisable that women should not use this herb if they are enduring severe menstruation pains. As mentioned earlier, thuja possesses diuretic properties and is also employed to cure severe cases of cystitis, in addition to bed-wetting in children. Extracts obtained from the plant may also be massaged on the throbbing muscles and joints in the form of a counter-irritant, to augment blood supply locally as well as to provide relief from pain and rigidness of the muscles and joints.
Besides its therapeutic uses, thuja is a very important tree for the Ojibwe people of America. It has always been held in high esteem in their culture and they have named the species Nookomis Giizhik denoting ‘Grandmonther Cedar'. In fact, thuja is a topic of hallowed myths and is believed to be a gift to mankind for the plant's innumerable uses. Thuja is used for therapeutic as well as in craft and for construction purposes. Thuja is among the four plants of the medicine wheel of the Ojibwe, which related to the south. The foliage of thuja (Thuja occidentalis) contains high amounts of vitamin C and is considered to be medication that healed scurvy of the French explorer Jacques Cartier and his associates in the winter of 1535-36. As thuja contains a neuro-toxic compound called thujone, using this herb internally may prove to be detrimental for one's health provided it is being used for a long period of time or by a woman who is pregnant.
Thuja also has commercial uses, for instance it is employed as rustic fencing, lumber, poles, posts, shingles and also in constructing log cabins. It may be noted that as a wood, thuja has a preference for making structures, for instance, planking and ribs, planking of wooden canoes and also of birch bark canoes.
The essential oil enclosed by the thuja plant has been traditionally employed in the form of disinfectants, cleansers, insecticides, room sprays and liniment. In addition, it has been used to make soft soaps and hair preparations. According to some reports, one of the largest Native American tribes, the Ojibwa used the inner bark of soft branches of thuja trees to prepare a soup. Other indigenous people of the America have also used the thuja twigs to prepare herbal teas to cure headache and constipation.
During the 19th century, thuja was used commonly in the form of a topically applied tincture or lotion to treat thrush, ringworm and warts. It is said that injecting the tincture prepared with thuja twigs into the venereal warts was effective in getting rid of them.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
Thuja is an evergreen growing tree that is found in Canada and the northern United States. In Europe, thuja is grown as an ornamental plant. This species grows on its own in damp forest lands; and grow abundantly in coniferous marshy lands where other taller as well as rapidly-growing trees are unable to effectively contend with thuja. Thuja may also be found growing in other places where there is less competition from other trees, such as the cliffs. While thuja is presently not listed as an endangered species, Thuja occidentalis trees growing in the wild are faced with threats in several regions where there is a high population of deer. In fact, the yielding evergreen thuja plants are extremely attractive to deer as their winter food and, hence, they strip these plants fast.
When grown in specific conditions, thuja may have a very long life span. In fact, you may find remarkably old thuja trees growing on cliffs where they were not troubled by deer or assaulted by wildfires. It is surprising to note that the oldest surviving thuja tree is more than 1,100 years old. In addition, a dead specimen having more than 1,650 growth rings has also been discovered! Their age notwithstanding, these incredibly old thuja trees are generally small and underdeveloped owing to the hard growing conditions.
There is no specific clinical trial of thuja by itself on humans thus far. However, in 2005, a German team of scientists undertook a research that considered a combination of extracts, including those from herbs like baptisia, Echinacea and thuja for treating as many as 91 adult patients suffering from colds and runny noses. It was found that the patients who were given the combined extracts used lesser facial tissues compared to the patients who received placebo. Nevertheless, it is not possible to find out or say to what extent this was the effect of thuja.
It may be noted here that whatever scientific proof that is available does not endorse the claims made by the advocators of thuja that this herb is useful in cancer treatment or curing any other ailment. In the medical literature, there is no mention regarding any study on the consequences of using thuja in the form of an herbal medication in humans. Similarly, there is insufficient scientific information that thuja really possesses any remedial worth. However, several advocators of thuja base their assortments on partial laboratory experiments or individual accounts. According to the findings of one laboratory experiment undertaken in Germany, a sort of complex sugar known as polysaccharide was found during the study in thuja augmented the capability of the immune system to combat pathogens.
Therapeutically, thuja is used in two forms - infusion and tincture.
Infusion: To prepare an infusion with thuja, add one teaspoonful of the dehydrated herb to a cup (250 ml) of boiling water and allow it to permeate for about 10 to 15 minutes. For best results, this infusion should be taken thrice every day.
Tincture: The normal dosage of the tincture prepared from thuja twigs is 1 ml to 2 ml taken thrice every day.
Side effects and cautions
People who use therapeutic preparations for treating any of their health conditions ought to exercise certain precautions as use of this herb may result in a number of side effects. When taken in large doses internally, thuja may prove to be toxic. Nevertheless, the precise amount that results in problems is yet to be ascertained. Many individuals who have taken thuja internally have complained that they have experienced intestinal irritations, asthma attacks, spontaneous or forced abortions (miscarriages) as well as stimulation of the nervous system.
The essential oil enclosed in thuja results in seizures when taken internally and when this herb is ingested in large dosage, it can not only cause seizures, but also damage the liver and kidneys. The fresh leaves and shoots of the thuja tree may also result in poisoning - in fact, a number of deaths have also been reported. If the skin or the eye is exposed to the leaf oil, it may result in acute burns or irritation. In addition, people who have been working with the timber of thuja trees are known to have been affected by rashes and asthma.
An element of thuja called thujone is said to result in muscle contractions, seizures as well as hallucination provided this herb is taken internally. In effect, such toxicities pertaining to the nerves are a fall-out of thujone obstructing the actions of gamma amino butyric acid, which is regularly called GABA. When taken in excessive doses, thujone is said to harm the kidneys and the liver. Apart from thuja, thujone is also found in some other plants, most remarkably the mugwort and wormwood.
It is advisable that individuals suffering from seizure problems or gastrointestinal disorders, for example, gastritis or stomach ulcers ought to keep away from thuja. In addition pregnant women and nursing mothers should never use this toxic herb. It may be underlined here that if you are enduring any type of cancer and only depend on therapy with thuja without any conventional treatment or delaying such therapies may result in grave health conditions - deteriorating your condition further.
Collection and harvesting
Thuja is an evergreen conifer and the twigs of this tree may be collected all through the year. However, the best time to gather them is during the summer.