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.