Updated: Feb 14
Native to the Atlas mountains of Morocco, it is thought the Cedarwood Atlas (cedrus atlantica) tree originated from the wild and majestic Cedar forest of Lebanon – known since ancient times as the Cedars of God, and now one of the last of the ancient old-growth forests.
The Cedars of God got this name from being the site of an epic battle between demigods and man - it features in one of the oldest surviving epics ever told (found in Sumeria, carved on to tablets in cuneiform and dated at approximately 2100BCE) , the Epic of Gilgamesh, in which Gilgamesh, a powerful yet villainous part god/part man, seeks fame by slaying Humbaba, the forest’s demon guardian. Once Humbaba has been killed, Gilgamesh chops down the precious Cedar trees to build his palaces and fortresses.
Forests have long represented the domain of spirits - Battaglia says that “when we think of ‘wood’ we often think of tall majestic trees and forests… the forest represents the abode of nature spirits and trees are the guardians of the nature spirits". Indeed Barnard says that “walking among the cedars on a mountain slope in Lebanon feels like visiting the territory of primeval beings”. And according to Monday “the tree exists in all three worlds – the earthly, the underworld and its branches soar into the infinite heavens, the domain of god”. The native Cherokee tribes use the wood of cedar to protect from evil spirits.
Symbolising eternity, immortality, strength, resilience and survival, the cedar thus earned its place as the national tree of Lebanon, the image taking pride of place on the nation’s flag.
The wood of cedar is resistant to rot, so made an excellent material for building ships, temples, sarcophagi and tombs. So revered (and thus subsequently degraded) by thousands of years of civilisation (Mesopotamians, Phoenecians, Egyptians, the empires of Greece and Rome, and modern-day turmoil), this UNESCO – listed site of the Cedars of God is now facing its greatest threat. Whilst cedars can grow in difficult conditions, climate change poses a challenge even these hardy trees are struggling to meet - this looming and ever-present threat is altering ideal growing conditions and as their native habitat warms, the population is shrinking as the trees move to higher and higher altitudes, seeking the colder temperatures they need to survive.
Given such degradation, Lebanese Cedar is now threatened, and any oil stating to be Lebanese Cedar is likely to be Cedarwood Atlas.
That being said, Cedarwood Atlas is now also listed as an endangered species by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The trees are slow-growing, and with droughts and pests having catastrophic effects on their natural habitat, a shocking decline of 75% has been estimated. However, they are widely cultivated as ornamental trees in Europe. An Atlas cedar tree is even planted at the White House South Lawn in Washington, DC.
Cedarwood Atlas is a true cedar, of the Pinaceae family, whereas Virginian Cedarwood, also offered by Essential Therapeutics, belongs to the Cupressaceae. Effective for fluid retention, Cedarwood Atlas is also used in aromatherapy for respiratory tract infections (thanks to its anti-inflammatory sesquiterpene ketones), and is also considered effective for cystitis and UTIs.
However, it is the effect of Atlas Cedar on the mind and the psyche that it is best known for. Cooling in nature, and a supremely grounding oil, it is excellent where there is anxiety and stress. It helps calm the mind, providing comfort and emotional security.
Battaglia states that “In mythology and symbolism, words such as courage, eternity, immortality, longevity, strength and wisdom have been used to describe characteristics of wood… because they are slow growing, we often see them as symbols of fortitude and patience”.
We see this symbolism carry over to the actions of cedarwood on the human mind and psyche, indeed Battaglia states that cedarwood is “one of the key essential oils for meditation and prayer”, by promoting a connection with Spirit, and by calming and clearing the mind. It supports all of the chakras by promoting spiritual understanding and supporting intuition, whilst being grounding and fostering courage, confidence and perseverance.
Holmes says of Cedarwood “inhaling its warm, sweet, fluid and deeply woody aroma makes one immediately feel centred, grounded and present, and intuitively connected to the timeless power of the conifer tree kingdom”.
Battaglia, S. Aromatherapy and Chakras . 2020. Black Pepper Creative.
Battaglia, S. Aromatree. 2019. Black Pepper Creative.
Battaglia, S. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, 3rd Ed, Vol. 1, 2018. Black Pepper Creative Pty Ltd.
Holmes, P. Aromatica, Volume 1. (2016) Singing Dragon.
Bernard, A. The New York Times. Accessed 21/01/23.
EcoTree. Cedar: Meaning and Uses. Accessed 21/01/23
Forest History Society. Legend of the Cedar Tree. Accessed 21/01/23
Monday R, The Archetypal Symbolism of Trees. Accessed 21/01/23.https://www.themystica.com/tree-symbolism/
Wikipedia. Cedar Forest. Accessed 21/01/23. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedar_Forest
Wikipedia. Cedrus Atlantica. Accessed 21/01/23. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedrus_atlantica