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History of Cedarwood

Harvesting of Cedarwood

Processing of Cedarwood

Yield of Cedarwood Oil

Common Uses of Cedarwood Oil



(Woodlore 1999)


Cedarwood oil comes from plants in the families Cupressaceae and Pinaceae. Members of the Cupressaceae include the Junipers, which contains about 50 species of which, Juniperus occidentalis, Juniperus virginiana, and Juniperus ashei are used for the commercial production of cedarwood oil in the USA. These three species are not true cedars, but get their name from the aroma of the wood. In China, Chamaecyparis funebris is used to produce cedarwood oil. The Pinaceae family has two main species which are used for cedarwood oil production, they are Cedrus atlantica, and Cedrus deodora (Auroma 1997). The majority of the literature to be discussed below concentrates on Juniperus, and the methods used to harvest and distill the oil used in USA. The three juniper species mentioned above are mainly found in the sate of Texas on mountains and in abandoned pastures. Their numbers have increased due to the rising costs of clearing pastures, as all three species inhabit an area quickly, i.e. they are pioneer species (Alden 1996).

The majority of the cedarwood oil is produced from the heartwood, as the sapwood contains a very little percentage of oils. Thus it is more efficient to produce the oil from older trees than younger ones (Adams 1999). Cedarwood oil is pale yellow in colour when freshly distilled, and the scent gives mild, sweet, woody aroma. The two main constituents of the oil are cedrol and cedrene, each being used for different purposes (Kevala 1999) (Table 1).

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History of Cedarwood

Cedarwood has been used throughout the ages by numerous races. The first documented use of cedarwood oil was by the Ancient Egyptians 2000-3000 years Before Christ. They used cedarwood oil in the mummification process and also made the coffin from cedarwood (Kevala 1999). The Ancient Egyptians and Greeks used cedarwood oil to ward off infections (Hunters 1999) and as an ingredient used in cosmetics. They also impregnated papyrus leaves with it to repel insects (Kevala 1999).

The early Europeans used cedarwood oil to help heal the sick and to prevent outbreaks of disease. Europeans used cedarwood oil to cure indigestion, flatulence, leprosy, bubonic plague, smallpox and fever (Madison 1997). In the 17th century, English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, had observed that cedarwood was a remedy for heart failure, coughs, shortness of breath, tuberculosis and menstruation (Hunters 1999). The American Indians seemed to have used cedarwood oil for almost any health condition. Different tribes had alternate uses for the oil, such as the Mohawk Indians, who used the oil to remove warts, heal wounds, and to sooth muscular pain (Mineral 1999). Whereas the Ojibwa used the oil to cure headache, constipation, and as an analgesic (Mineral 1999).

But cedarwood oil was not only used to cure actual physical illnesses, it was also used by the American Indians to cleanse the spirit, ward off evil, and to communicate with nature, including both plants and animals (Giese 1996). During the Middle Ages, Europeans thought that placing a cedar tree beside the front door would keep witches from entering their houses (Mineral 1999).

Thus, through out history, cedarwood oil has been used by a variety of cultures, in different ways to prevent or cure illnesses. This was all done without the scientific knowledge to understand the theory and chemical composition of cedarwood. Therefore, trial and error must have been used to determine the effect the oil would have on an individual illness.

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(Texarome 1999)

Harvesting of Cedarwood

Cedarwood is mainly harvested by chainsaws as the terrain on which it grows may be steep and rocky; thus some trees may not accessible to ground vehicles. Also, there is very little or no profit in harvesting cedarwood trees (Adams 1999). Until 1964, the US government allowed farmers and distillation plants to employ Mexicans for a nominated period to harvest cedarwood for fence posts and distillation and to pay the Mexicans a below average wage (Garriga et al.1997). However, farmers and distillation companies are unable to employ Mexicans to harvest cedarwood. Therefore, millions of acres of farmland have been invaded by three species of juniper, Juniperus occidentalis, Juniperus virginiana and Juniperus ashei. (Garriga et al.1997). Due to the invasion, the US government offered incentives to farmers to clear the cedarwood (junipers) from their land. This has been beneficial to the cedarwood distillation companies, as there is now an ample supply of cedar that may be used to produce the oil.

The cedarwood is not felled and brought to the distillation plant immediately, but is left for a period of 15 to 20 years to allow for the sapwood and bark to be naturally removed from the heartwood, as heartwood contains the majority of the oil. (Garriga et al.1997). Also, it is not economically viable to remove the bark and sapwood manually, and to transport the complete log with heartwood, sapwood, and bark.

The preferred ages for harvesting of trees are 65 years and above. When available trees as old as 160 years are preferred, as the older the tree is, the more heartwood it contains (Swan 1998). The preferred diameter and height are 40-70cm and 11 metres, respectively (Swan 1998).

Not all of the cedarwood for oil production comes directly from a felled tree, but sawdust and wood shavings that are produced during the manufacture of cedar furniture is also used in the distillation process. This improves the economic efficiency of the plant, as it does not require the plant to pay for harvesting and transportation.

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(Texarome 1999)

Processing Cedarwood

The most popular method for processing cedarwood for oil production is steam distillation, as this process seems to be the cheapest and most efficient means of producing cedarwood oil. A properly tuned steam/retort/condenser system should be able to yield 80% of the oil in three to eight hours (Swan, 1998).

The main components of a complete distillation process are the retort, condenser, steam generator, and a separator. The steam generator produces saturated steam at a pressure of 50 to 150 psi, and a temperature of 100 to 150 _C, as these have been tested and proven to be the most efficient for oil extraction (Boucard and Serth 1993). The steam is passed into the retort which contains the cedarwood chips and passes through the wood particles thereby heating and saturating them with water. The vapor that is produced contains cedarwood oil vapor which is passed onto the condenser where it is cooled down. The condensate runs by gravity into the separator where the mixture of water and oil separate due to their differing specific gravity's. The cedarwood oil is then collected, while the water is returned to be re- steamed( Chamomile 1999).

Once the oil has been extracted from the wood, wood fibre remains and this used to produce fibreboard, drilling mud, animal bedding, mulch and tar paper (Garriga et al 1997). These uses of cedarwood residues increases the economic viability of the distillation plant, and minimises the wastage of cedarwood.

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Yield of Cedarwood Oil

The amount of oil produced from cedarwood depends on the species, its age, and if the tree has undergone any long duration of stress, as stress increases the amount of heartwood produced (Adams 1999). Also another major factor is the habit of the species. If the species is in the form of a shrub, then it will not be economically viable to mill because trees in this form tend to have a low heartwood percent. Thus only species that take the form of trees with large boles are processed for cedarwood oil. The three major species that cedarwood oil is produced from in the USA are Juniperus occidentalis, Juniperus virginiana and Juniperus ashei. The yield of oil on a dry weight basis from Juniperus occidentalis, Juniperus virginiana and Juniperus ashei are 1.68%, 3.18% and 4.04% respectively (Adams 1999). Thus, Juniperus ashei yields the largest quantity of oil of the three species. The two primary components of cedarwood oil are cedrol and cedrene, and the amount of each present in the oil varies with species (Table1). But the three species mentioned above have the largest quantities thus making them the most viable for cedarwood oil production.

 Primary Derivatives  Secondary Derivatives  Chemical Formula  Commercial Use
 Cedrol    C15H26O   Cedar and Cypress camphor
   Cedryl formate  C16H26O2  Men's perfume
    Cedryl acetate   C17H28O2  Soap perfumes
   Cedryl phenylacetate  C23H32O2  Sandalwood
    Cedryl cinnamate  C24H32O2  Detergent perfumes
   Cedryl methyl ether  C16H28O  Soap perfumes
  Cedrene     C15H24  
   Cedrene epoxide  C15H24O   Woody scents
   Cedrenol  C15H24O  Soap perfumes
    Cedrenyl acetate   C17H28O2   Household fragrances, soaps
   Cedrenone  C15H22   Soap perfumes

Table 1- The two main components of cedarwood oil, their secondary derivatives, their chemical formula and commercial use (Garriga et al. 1997).

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(Drivetime 1999)

Common Uses of Cedarwood Oil

Cedarwood oil is used in all areas of life, from repelling pests to curing illnesses. Cedarwood oil is also used in aromatherapy as a calming agent, carrier oil, as massage oil, and for cleansing the spirit.

Cedarwood oil is also used in houses to repel moths, silverfish, cockroaches and some species of beetles (Woodlore 1999). It is also used as a room freshener, and for repelling insects such as mosquitoes. Cedarwood oil is also used to restore the smell of cedar to old chests and cupboards (Texarome 1999).

Cedarwood oil is also used in therapeutic products to help prevent and cure acne, dandruff, greasy skin, hair loss and dermatitis.

Cedarwood oil is also used in the medical field to prevent and cure many illnesses. The oil can be used to improve circulatory response of the body by lowering blood pressure, relieving fluid retention, strengthening the kidneys, and for varicose veins.

Cedarwood oil also helps the digestive system by relieving indigestion, flatulence, diarrhea, and colic. The oil may improve the immune system to help prevent colds, flu and infections (Hunters 1999).

Cedarwood oil is not always of benefit to people. During pregnancy, cedarwood oil should be avoided as it has been known to be a powerful abortifacient (Kevala 1999). Also, if the oil is not diluted it may cause skin irritations (Kevala 1999).

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Adams, R.P (1999) Investigation of Juniperus species of the United States for new sources of cedarwood oil. Economic Botany.41, pp. 48-54.

Alden, H.A. (1996) Wood technology fact sheet: Juniperus virginiana.USDA Forest Service, Madison, WI.

Auroma News (1997) @ HYPERLINK

Boucard, G.R. and Serth, R.W. (1993)Practical design of a continuous distillation plant for the seperation of essential oils from aromatic raw materials. Texarome, Texas.

Chamomile (1999) The process of Steam distillation. @ HYPERLINK

Garriga, M. Thurow, A. Thurow, T (1997) Commercial value of Juniper on the Edwards Plateau, Texas. @ HYPERLINK

Giese, P. (1996)Juniper- Tribal Use. @ HYPERLINK

Hunters (1999)Juniper oil @ HYPERLINK

Kevala (1999)Cedarwood(Cedrus atlantica, Pinaceae family) @ HYPERLINK

Madison (1997)Essential note:Red cedarwood @ HYPERLINK

Mineral (1999)About cedarwood and cedarleaf @ HYPERLINK

Swan, L. (1998)Western Juniper oil distillation and marketing Project. The confederate tribes of the warm springs reservation, Oregon.

Texarome (1999)Common uses of cedarwood oil @ HYPERLINK

Woodlore (1999)History of cedar @ HYPERLINK

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Copyright 1999 The Australian National University

Author: Forestry Web People

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Date last modified: 19.9.99