Thuja is a very useful medicinal plant. In 16th century native Indians in Canada first identified it as a medicine to combat the weakness of Scurvy. Later as a folk medicine it was used to treat bronchial catarrh, cystitis, enuresis, psoriasis, uterine cancer, rheumatism and amenorrhoea. Now a days thuja is used in allopathy as well as in homeopathy for its medicinal properties.
Botanical name – Thuja occidentalis.
Other common names – Arbor vitae, white cedar, yellow cedar, American Arbor vitae, eastern Arbor vitae, Tuja (Swedish ), Tuya (Spenish), Lebensbaum (German ), Thuya d’occident ( French).
Latin word Arbor vitae means “tree of life” due to its medicinal properties.
Habitat – Initially found in North America and Canada, subsequently grown at Europe. Now a days Arbor vitae is found almost everywhere in the world . It s planted as an ornamental tree. It is popular in the nurseries as a beautiful evergreen tree. It is used as hedge and for fencing purposes.
Plant description – This conical-shaped plant grows up to 20 meters in height. The leaves are scaly. Bark is reddish brown and peels off in vertical strips. The tree has small male flowers and small elongated female cones.
Use of Plant parts – Up to one year old young branches, leaves; bark and twigs are used for preparing herbal medicine. By distillation essential oil is extracted. Cedar wood oil and cedar leaf oil derived from Thuja occidentalis. The oil has camphor-like smell. It is colourless or of bright yellow colour. The oil contains a chemical ‘thujone’, which has toxic properties – can cause low blood pressure, asthma and seizures. Other ingredients found in the plant are flavonoids, tannin, mucus substances, polysaccharides and sequiterpenes. Researchers suggest that vitamin c is present in thuja herb and hence it was useful in scurvey.
Use in ancient days – The Native Americans believed that the smoke produced by burning the tree could push away the evil spirits.
It was externally used to treat psoriasis, rheumatism, gout, arthritis, warts and burns.
A decoction prepared from tender leaves and twigs was used to treat cough, fever, headache, cystitis, venereal diseases and intestinal parasites.
Modern use – Mostly used to treat warts and polyps on account of its antiviral properties. Thuja has diuretic properties and hence used to treat bed-wetting in young children, also it is useful in cystitis. Owing to expectorant and anti-catarrhal properties thuja is helpful in respiratory disorders like bronchitis, pharyngitis, tonsilitis and sinusitis . Thuja may be used in the treatment of infected wounds, burns and skin infections like ringworm, since it has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It is also used in painful conditions like trigeminal neuralgia and osteoarthritis.
Recently German scientists has demonstrated that thuja can strengthen immune system by
T-lymphocyte stimulation and increasing interlukin-2 production.
Miscellaneous uses of thuja – Flavoring agent in food & beverages.
Used in cosmetics and soaps.
Used as insect-repellant.
Externally used as local applicant in osteoarthritis, myositis and some skin disorders.
Side effects, poisoning and drug-interactions:
Caution – the drug must be used with great precaution under supervision of qualified healthcare professional. Internal use can cause seizures, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, pain abdomen, gastrointestinal bleeding, leg oedema, palpitation, hypotention. If not used in proper dosage it can cause hepatotoxicity and nephrotoxicity.
Thuja should never be used in pregnant and lactating ladies. This herb may have abortifacient property.
Better to avoid thuja with the following in order to prevent possible drug-interactions viz. Anaesthesia (propofol), antiarrythmic (mexiletine), immunosuppressant (cyclosporine), narcotics (fentanyl), antihistaminic (cyproheptadine), theophylline, stimulant (methylphenidate), antidepressant ( bupropion) and antibiotics (penicillin, cephalosporin,amphotericin).
Thuja not to be taken by persons with history of epilepsy.
Persons suffering from SLE, MS, Rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune disorder should avoid using thuja. Thja might cause auto immune system more active and thus increasing the symptoms of the auto-immune disease.
More research is going on this medicinal plant and we may expect some more beneficial reports on thuja in the field of immunology.