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Wild Wednesday: Exploring the Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Welcome back to another exciting edition of Wild Wednesday! Today, we're diving deep into the world of wild plants, trees, and weeds that can help us thrive in the wilderness. Our focus for today is the Eastern Red Cedar, scientifically known as Juniperus virginiana. This remarkable tree has a lot more to offer than meets the eye. Let's explore its characteristics and the many ways it can come to the rescue in a survival situation.

Getting to Know the Eastern Red Cedar

The Eastern Red Cedar, despite its name, isn't actually a cedar but a juniper. This evergreen tree is native to North America and is widely distributed across the eastern United States. It's a hardy tree that can grow in a variety of conditions, making it a valuable resource for those venturing into the wild.

Physical Characteristics:

Size: The Eastern Red Cedar is typically a medium-sized tree, ranging from 20 to 50 feet in height.

Appearance: It has distinctive dark green needle-like leaves that are scale-like and overlap each other closely. These leaves give off a pleasant, woodsy aroma when crushed.

Berries: The tree produces small blue-gray berries, which are actually cones that take about two years to mature.

Bark: The reddish-brown bark exfoliates in thin strips, revealing a reddish inner bark.

Survival Uses of Eastern Red Cedar

When it comes to surviving in the wilderness, the Eastern Red Cedar is a hidden gem. Here are some of the ingenious ways you can utilize this tree to your advantage:

Fire Starting:

The Eastern Red Cedar tree holds a remarkable talent as an exceptional fire initiator due to its rich resin content. The outer bark is particularly helpful for this purpose. It can be used to craft a tinder source, often referred to as a "bird's nest." This material dries rapidly and is easy to ignite, producing a strong, hot flame that's capable of starting fires even in damp conditions. Additionally, the wood from dead-standing trees is perfect for creating tools like a bow drill set, which can help spark fires. When you burn the cedar wood, the resulting aromatic smoke functions as a natural insect repellent, keeping bothersome bugs a bay.

Shelter and Bedding:

In a survival situation, finding adequate shelter is paramount. The tree's branches, with their dense foliage, can be woven together to create a shelter that provides protection from the elements. The soft, fragrant leaves can also be used as bedding to insulate you from the cold ground.

Cordage & Tools:

The strong and flexible inner bark of the Eastern Red Cedar can be stripped into fibers and twisted to create cordage. This cordage can be used for various purposes, from building traps to crafting tools. Additionally, the wood can be fashioned into primitive tools such as bows, digging sticks, and even crafting implements.


Several parts of the Eastern Red Cedar have traditional medicinal uses. The berries, though mildly toxic in large quantities, were used by indigenous peoples for various medicinal purposes. They contain compounds that have diuretic properties and could be used cautiously in situations requiring urinary support.

Food & Flavoring:

While not a primary food source, the berries of the Eastern Red Cedar can be eaten in small quantities. They have a unique flavor and can be used as a seasoning or flavoring for game meat or other foods. However, due to their strong taste, it's best to use them sparingly.

Insect Repellent:

Beyond just the aromatic smoke, the crushed leaves and branches of the Eastern Red Cedar can be rubbed on the skin to help repel insects. This natural insect repellent can be a lifesaver in bug-infested environments, reducing the risk of insect-borne diseases.

Harvesting and Precautions

As with any survival skill, responsible harvesting is crucial to ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem. When harvesting from the Eastern Red Cedar, keep these guidelines in mind:

Bark & Branches:

When harvesting inner and outer bark or branches, take only what you need and avoid harming the tree excessively. Removing too much bark from a single area can be harmful to the tree's health.


If you choose to consume the berries, do so in moderation. Eating large quantities can lead to digestive issues due to the compounds present in the berries.

The Eastern Red Cedar is a true wilderness ally. Its various uses, from fire starting to shelter building, make it an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to survive in the wild. Remember, though, that survival skills require practice and knowledge. Learning how to properly identify, harvest, and use plants like the Eastern Red Cedar is essential before heading out into the wilderness.

So, the next time you find yourself in a sticky survival situation, keep an eye out for the Eastern Red Cedar. This unassuming tree might just provide the key to your survival, showcasing the remarkable ways that nature can support us when we need it most. – Stay Safe, enjoy the wilderness, and together, we’ll RUN THE WOODS!

I hope this information helps out if the time comes to ever need it, and If you like what we are doing at the Woodsrunner School. Show your support, by sharing our content.

Joshua Barnes

Founder & Director of Operations

Woodsrunner School, LLC

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