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Back in old times (really old times), when people would get scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) on long voyages, Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) was used as a treatment/cure to help folks recover from scurvy. That shows that it is useful in some amounts, and can be ingested.

So if it is healthy/safe, what amounts can be used as a seasoning/flavoring, and can it be used in place of (or mixed with) any common herbs/seasonings?

  • We've decided that "what goes with X?" questions are mostly not a good fit for the site since they tend to act like polls, with people listing. This one might be okay though... seems fair to ask if there are any traditional dishes containing it (given how obscure it is), or for a description of the flavor (e.g. comparison to more common herbs would help find things it goes with), at the very least. And maybe it's okay even as-is - we can wait to worry til a dozen people post their arborvitae recipes. – Cascabel Feb 25 '15 at 20:29
  • @Jefromi Come to think of it that makes a lot of sense. I reworded that part. – J. Musser Feb 25 '15 at 21:36
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My first instinct was no way, remembering that the branches and leaves contain a high amount of thujone, which is a neurotoxin and not without risks, especially if used over a long time or while pregnant. This is the same stuff that caused absinthe to be discredited for decades.

But Thuja oils typically contain 40% α-thujon, sage (salvia officinalis) up to 60%. Thuja's pungent smell would prevent ingesting too much.

So my conclusion would be:

  • do not use for a long time or when pregnant (most midwives caution against using sage, too, btw.)

  • use sparingly for health reasons, a limited amount is considered safe by health agencies world wide, see information on absinthe for example.

  • use very sparingly for culinary reasons, because the taste is quite "pronounced". I had to take a herbal medicine with thuja decades ago and still shudder to think of it. (It did work, though...)

When thinking of potential culinary uses, think of uses for sage or juniper - you will want to use it as a spice in foods that can "handle" the woody, bitter tinge. Dark red meat or even game perhaps? Complement with a generous amount of pepper and perhaps a good red wine.

Another approach that might be worth a try is sweetening it up - like "fir syrup" (is this known in American cuisine?).

1

Well it was used to make a medicinal tea and tinctures. I don't know if I would want to use it as a seasoning, at least not regularly but if there are no reported hazards, I would think it's safe. I would do more research before committing to that idea though.

Assuming it's safe, I would think anything that would benefit from an evergreen facet (like rosemary), could benefit from it. I don't think you'll find too many people will have experience with white cedar as a seasoning.

  • 3
    The question was regarding the safety and you didn't answer that. Qualifying everything with if's and assumptions is not the same as an answer. – Mr. Mascaro Feb 25 '15 at 22:32
  • "The natives of Canada used the needles of Thuja occidentalis (Eastern White Cedar) to make a tea that has been shown to contain 50 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams; this helped prevent and treat scurvy." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thuja – Wayfaring Stranger Feb 25 '15 at 23:26
  • @WayfaringStranger Yeah, but... does it have anything besides vitamin C that might be bad, but not noticed back then? – Cascabel Feb 26 '15 at 2:43
  • @Jefromi It also contains arginine and other essebtial amino acids. Intresting story: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2647905 And of course, thujone en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thujone ,one of the minor components of Absinthe. Thujone is used medicinally, and is probably not good for you in large, repeated doses, but the plant was not called "tree of life" for its toxicity. -A little on your pizza shouldn't hurt. – Wayfaring Stranger Feb 26 '15 at 3:09

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