This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Mr. Thomas Meehan gave in detail the reasons given by various authors for the name Arbor-vitas in connection with Thuja occidentalis - reasons unsatisfactory even to the authors who advanced them. He referred to the statement of Ray, in his Historia Plantarum, that the tree was first introduced from Canada to France and named Arbre de vie, by King Francis the 1st. Francis died in 1547. The seeds from which these plants were raised, could scarcely have been obtained in any other way than through Jacques Cartier's expedition, say in 1834, and we may therefore conclude that Thuja Occident-alis, was among the first, perhaps the first North American plant to become known in Europe. Parkman, in his Pioneers of France, graphically describes the sufferings of Cartier's band, during the winter of their encampment near the junction of the River Lairet with the St. Charles. Twenty-five died of scurvy, and the rest were sick but two. A friendly Indian told him of an evergreen which they called "Annedda," a decoction of which was sovereign against the disease.
In six days the sufferers had "drank a tree as large as a French oak," the distemper relaxed its hold, and "health and hope began to revisit the hopeless company" (p. 195). This Annedda seems to have been identified with the white spruce, Abias alba, and is, as I am informed by Dr. W. R Gerard, the same as the Mohawk "onnita," and the Onondaga " on netta." According to Rafinesque the spruce beer of the Indians was made of the young tops and young cones of this tree boiled together with maple sugar, and was one of their famous remedies for scurvy. Rafinesque also says that a decoction of the leaves of the arborvitae was an Indian remedy for scurvy and rheumatism ; besides, the leaves, with bear's grease, being used externally. Rafinesque, however, believes it was the white spruce which saved the lives of Cartier's band, and if the "Annedda" of the Indians is really the while spruce, the evidence through the statement made so soon after Car-tier's expedition that the health-giving plant was the "Annedda," is strong. But spruce beer could not have been made in the winter season - the leaves only were used. There is no evidence that the white spruce was known in Europe till towards the end of the 18th century.
It is but natural that whatever the tree might have been, it was a veritable tree of life - an arbre de vie- to Cartier's men. They would certainly make every effort to take with them to their native land so valuable a tree. But we have no reason to believe that they attempted to introduce the white spruce. There is, as we have seen, good reason to believe that Cartier took the Thuja oecidentalis to Europe, and it is on record that his royal patron, a few years afterward, distributed the tree as the arborvitae; and, notwithstanding the seemingly positive evidence that the tree was the white spruce, Mr. Meehan thought the Thuja had some ground for disputing the claim. At any rate, whichever may have been the real tree, he could not help suspecting that the name "arborvitae" had some relation to this touching episode in the history of the Cartier expedition.