Thuja and Trigeminal Neuralgia

Question: Would you have any information or know of any book that would explain how to use Thuja for trigeminal neuralgia? The PDR for herbal medicines lists Thuja as a treatment for this. I can’t find out much more about it. Any help would be appreciated.

Answer: While only slightly familiar with trigeminal neuralgia I was surprised to read that it is the most frequent of all neuralgias. The Complete Home Medical Guide by Crown Publishers describes standard medical treatment using a strong analgesic which is effective in many individuals but in some cases surgery on the nerve is performed to achieve pain relief.

Thuja occidentalis is also known as Arbor Vitae, Tree of Life, White Cedar, Yellow Cedar and it the branchlet, leaf and young twigs that are used medicinally.

Most herb books that include Thuja only refer to its use for respiratory, menstruation & urinary problems, rheumatism, heart stimulant, psoriasis, warts, as an antifungal agent for ringworm and thrush. This herb can be dangerous and is avoided during pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease and excessive menstrual bleeding. Thujone, a major constituent, is toxic in large doses, so long term use is avoided with a recommended maximum extract dose of 2 – 4 ml, which should be taken internally only occasionally. These warnings for thujone content are mainly for internal use of alcoholic extracts and any kind of use of the essential oil. Thuja tea made with water is low in thujone. The essential oil is the strongest form of this herb and there are cases of death on record with the use of the essential oil.

I am encouraged to find references to Thuja’s use for muscular aches and pains including rheumatism as well as headaches. I see references to its historical use where the leaves were made into an ointment with fat for a local application for rheumatism. According to A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve, for violent pains the Canadians have used the cones, powdered, with four-fifths of Polypody, made into a poultice with lukewarm water or milk and applied to the body, with a cloth over the skin to prevent scorching. This is old historical information but interesting to read the varied preparations for external use. In a slightly more modern source of information, Alma Hutchens writes in IndianHerbalogy of North America, the leaves and twigs boiled with oil make an excellent salve. Also for removal of warts and fungoid growths. Hutchens also lists it use for hip/joint disease and sciatica.

In one of my absolute best sources of essential oil data, there is reported benefit from using Thuja Essential Oil for neuralgia. Sylla Sheppard-Hanger, author of The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual, Vol. 1, Vol. 2.clearly states what uses are based in science and which uses are from anecdotal evidence.

As stated above, the essential oil comes with severe warnings because of its thujone content. Sylla Sheppard-Hanger offers the most complete essential oil safety information available. She makes note of the oral toxicity of Thuja essential oil but says it is tested for external use at low dose as being non-irritating and non-sensitizing, adding to use only with extreme caution.

I am not your doctor and cannot give you advice but if it were me wanting to use Thuja, I would first try an infused oil applied externally as well as drinking a tea. Only after a period of time if I wasn’t happy with the results would I consider carefully applying stronger preparations externally. I would still not drink anything stronger than a tea made with water. Stronger preparations I would consider externally would include alcoholic extract or a very diluted essential oil preparation.

In Herbal Tonic Therapies Daniel Mowrey reports of Rosemary being used to treat neuralgia and it is also commonly treated with Passion Flower andDevil’s Claw. He is referring to internal use but I would consider both internal and external applications simultaneously myself. While these herbs have reportedly been used for neuralgia and not specifically trigeminal neuralgia, I would still consider them worth using.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in more details about these reports. Mowrey has a keen insight into herbal tonic herbs and his information is almost entirely based in scientific study. Like many modern herbal authors he makes it completely clear which information is historical use of herbs and which is based in modern science.

Another book I highly recommend is The Herbal Drugstore by White & Foster. Their suggestions for nerve pain are Cayenne and St. John’s Wort. Cayenne is widely known for its use in nerve pain and we have a potent product called Cayenne Balm from which our customers give us good feedback. White and Foster only refer to the internal use of St. John’s Wort Extract for its calming effect on the nervous system which helps decrease the sensation of pain. They go on to say it also helps reduce the muscle tension and spasms that often accompany nerve pain. They do not include the external use of St. John’s Wort Infused Oil which is more famous for nerve pain specifically.

Remembering the standard medical treatment stated above, I would also apply various analgesic preparations like Lavender, Peppermint, Chamomile (Roman) Essential Oils. Clove Essential Oil is known as a pain reliever but comes with more warnings for use. It is a common remedy for tooth pain. If it were me, I would apply Clove Essential Oil diluted in Aloe Gel or Olive Oil and the other essential oils mentioned above (except Thuja) I might apply in small quantities undiluted if they didn’t irritate my skin in this strength.




Cayenne (African Bird 135,000 HU)

Capsicum annum

Excessive internal doses may cause GI irritation in sensitive individuals, externally contraindicated on injured skin or near eyes


Devil’s Claw Root

Harpagophytum procumbens

Avoid during gastric and duodenal ulcers. In case of gallstones, consult physician before use.


Passion Flower Herb

Passiflora incarnata

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Rosemary Leaf

Rosmarinus officinalis

Avoid during pregnancy.


St. John’s Wort Flower

Hypericum perforatum

May potentiate pharmaceutical MAO-inhibitors, fair-skinned people should avoid excessive sunlight and tanning while using.


St. John’s Wort Infused Oil

Hypericum perforatum

Rare photoallergic reactions occur in genetically predisposed individuals exhibited as skin conditions characteristic of allergic contact dermatitis. This is not photosensitivity which can occur with ingestion of tea or extract.


Thuja Leaf (Arbor Vitae)

Thuja occidentalis

Avoid during pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease and excessive menstrual bleeding. Because of the thujone content, avoid long-term use, do not exceed recommended dose of 2.0-4.0 ml liquid extract, which should be taken internally only occasionally. Aqueous forms such as tea are low in thujone.






Anthemis noblis L.

Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid in early pregnancy.



Eugenia caryophyllus

Skin and mucus membrane irritant, Potentially sensitizing. Use only highly diluted. Possible hepatoxic.



Lavandula angustifolia

Tested non-toxic at low levels



Mentha x piperita

Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid when pregnant, lactating. Skin irritant. Keep away from infants.




Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal, Vol. 1, Vol. 2. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1971.


Hoffmann, David. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal. Shaftsbury, Dorsett: Element Books. 1996.


Hutchens, Alma R. Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston & London: Shambhala. 1991.


Lust, John. The Herb Book. New York: Bantam Books. 1974.


Mowrey, Daniel B. Herbal Tonic Therapies. New Canaan: Keats Publishing Co. 1993.


Sheppard-Hanger, Sylla. The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual, Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Tampa: Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy. 1997.


Tapley, Donald F., et al Ed. Complete Home Medical Guide. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1985.


White, Linda B., Foster, Steven and the staff of Herbs for Health. The Herbal Drugstore. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press. 2000.


Wren, R.C. Potter’s New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs & Preparations. Saffron Walden: The C.W. Daniel Company Ltd. 1994.


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