Western red cedar is an ideal wood for sauna building. Highly regarded for its resistance to decay, the soft red-brown timber is an especially popular choice for building outdoor saunas. Many builders also use Western red cedar to construct decks, gazebos and other structures that must withstand all kinds of weather and outside elements. Western red cedar is also commonly used to line closets and chests, for the pungent aromatic oils from the wood are believed to discourage moth larvae, which can damage cloth by their eating.
Native to the northwestern US and southern Western Canada, Western red cedar has a long history of use by the Native American people of the northwest coast of North America. Some northwest coast tribes refer to themselves as "people of the red cedar" because of their extensive dependence on the softwood for basic materials. Western red cedar is called "the tree of life" by the Kakawaka'waka tribe and is still highly respected by all northwest coast people for its healing and spiritual powers.
According to the 1945 writings of Erna Gunther, the late University of Washington anthropologist who studied the northwest coast tribes, "The Lummi chew the buds of cedar and swallow them for sore lungs, while the Cowlitz chew them for toothache, and the Skokomish boil them for a gargle. The Skagit boil the ends of the leaves for coughs … The Klallam boil cedar limbs for tuberculosis medicine, (and) the Quinault make an infusion of the bark and twigs for kidney trouble (and) boil an infusion of cedar limbs to wash sores due to venereal diseases. "
In 1994, authors Jim Pojar and Andy Mackinnon wrote a Northwest coast Native myth that claims Western Red Cedar was created by a "Great Spirit … in honor of a man who was always helping others: 'When he dies and where he is buried, a cedar tree will grow and be useful to the people – the roots for baskets, the bark for clothing, the wood for Shelter. '"
Throughout the years, outdoor as well as indoor saunas made of Western red cedar have been repeatedly touted to be useful to the people who are fortunate enough to own them or use them on a regular basis. Sweat bathing in cedar saunas has been accredited with improving lung function, promoting blood circulation, increasing immunity to viruses and infections, assisting skin care, and aiding relaxation. And the list of potential positive effects of consistent cedar sauna use does not end there. Given the many proven health benefits of sauna bathing and the strong beliefs of the Native American people of North America's northwest coast, it may be quite fitting to call cedar saunas "saunas of life."
Western red cedar can be utilized in the construction of many types of home saunas and sauna kits. Countless backyard saunas, barrel saunas, basement saunas, bathroom saunas, bedroom saunas, custom saunas, do-it-yourself saunas, traditional Finnish saunas, far infrared saunas, patio saunas, prefab saunas and pre-cut saunas made of Western red cedar have beautified the homes and properties of discerning sauna bath enthusiasts for many years.
Interestingly enough, Western red cedar is not technically a true cedar wood; it is a cypress. Cedar refers to trees associated to the genus Cedrus in the coniferous plant family Pinaceae , while Western red cedar refers to a species of trees associated to the genus Thuja in the Cupressaceae or cypress family. Neverheless, most sauna manufacturers and sauna dealers market residential saunas made of Western red cedar as simply cedar saunas.
For more information on Western red cedar saunas, consult with a qualified home sauna builder or retailer.