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What is Cedar Water?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The term “cedar water” is used in several different ways, but most generally, it refers to water of a rather unique composition found in areas such as the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. This water has a distinctive dark color and earthy scent which reminds some people of cedar, explaining the name.

Cedar water forms when water is allowed to stand in highly acidic soil with a high iron ore content. The iron ore discolors the water, and the acid deters the presence of microorganisms which might otherwise proliferate and clarify the water. This type of water can also develop when trees with highly tannic leaves, such as oaks, neighbor a waterway and drop their leaves into the water, causing it to discolor with time. Lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams can all develop cedar water.

Usually, cedar water is not harmful. It may smell slightly strange, and it can have a dark appearance which is offputting, but it is not toxic or dangerous. However, it is usually a good idea to avoid drinking it, because it can upset the stomach. Many areas with acidic, iron-rich soil develop deposits of cedar water, including the pygmy forests of California and the mangrove swamps found in many tropical regions of the world.

Sometimes, water of poor quality such as muddy water or cedar water will enter a municipal water supply and cause the water in the taps to have an earthy scent or dark color. This water is usually safe to drink because it has been run through purification systems, but it can be unsettling to look at, and it may lend a strange flavor or smell to foods. For this reason, public works agencies usually try to address this problem quickly when it arises.

Several cities get their water supplies from bodies of water named after the cedar tree, such as Cedar Lake and the Cedar River. These cities may refer to “cedar water” when describing their water source, referencing the water supplier, rather than the condition of their water.

Several companies also sell products labeled as cedar water, which contain water with essence of cedar. These products are designed to be used for freshening linens and rooms, as the scent of cedar can be very refreshing and pleasant. They may also be used in older saunas to restore the cedar scent which many people associate with saunas, or in new saunas made with woods other than cedar.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By lovealot — On May 10, 2011

@chivebasil - In your post, you brought up the idea that perhaps there may be other kinds of tree water. The author of the article talks about cedar water developing when tannic acid (naturally found in the bark of oak or sumac trees)fall into a nearby body of water, discoloring it. I think the principle is about the same, but the acids involved are different.

By chivebasil — On May 09, 2011

Its amazing to me how much the flavor of water can vary and how much chemistry goes into the distinctions between very subtle tastes. I can't say that I've ever had cedar water but I'm curious about the flavor. This article makes me wonder if there are other kinds of tree water. I'm thinking maybe oak water or pine water. I assume the principles at play in cedar water could apply to other types of trees.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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