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Natural Healing:
Essiac Cancer Treatement

Science Mysteries

Essiac's original formula is believed to have its roots in native Canadian Ojibway medicine. Essiac, given its name by Rene Caisse ("caisse" spelt backwards), consists of four main herbs that grow in the wilderness of Ontario, Canada.

WARNING: Many of the statements made here have NOT been evaluated or approved by the F.D.A. We must also legally warn you that even though your medical doctor has had absolutely no training in Herbology or Natural Healing, if you are ill, have any disease or are pregnant or nursing, consult your medical doctor before attempting any natural or herbal program.

Cancer Treatment with Essiac

Essiac is an herbal cancer treatment developed by a Canadian nurse, Renée Caisse (1888-1978). (Essiac is Caisse spelled backwards.) Ms. Caisse claimed that the formula had been given to her in 1922 by a patient whose breast cancer had been cured by a traditional native American healer in Ontario.

Thousands of patients have since been treated with this herbal mixture, most of them at Caisse¹s own Bracebridge Clinic in Ontario. While this clinic was shut down in 1942, the controversy over Essiac simmered for years. Charles Brusch, MD--President John Kennedy's physician--is said to have declared in 1959 that "Essiac has merit in the treatment of cancer."

Essiac cannot be freely marketed in either the US or Canada. However, a company in Ontario is allowed to provide Essiac to Canadian patients under a special arrangement with health ofÞcials there. One problem is that Caisse never made the formula public in her lifetime. A number of companies now sell competing "original" Essiac in the form of a tea, but the authenticity of some of these formulas are open to question.

Essiac was tested at both Memorial Sloan-Kettering (MSKCC) and the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the 1970s and was said to have no anticancer activity in animal systems. But the mixture remains worth investigating, not just because of persistent anecdotal reports, but because most of its identiÞable components have individually shown anticancer properties in independent tests.

The four main herbs in Essiac are:

Burdock (Arctium lappa): There have been several studies showing antitumor activity of burdock in animal systems (1,2). (Other studies showed no such effects.) An antimutation factor has also been isolated, which is resistant to both heat and protein-digesting enzymes. Scientists at Kawasaki Medical School, Okayama, Japan, called this "the burdock factor" (3). Burdock has also been found to be active in the test tube against the human immuno-deÞciency virus (HIV) (4). Benzaldehyde, also present in burdock, has been shown to have signiÞcant anticancer effects in humans. (Intriguingly, burdock independently was included in another famous Osecret¹ herbal remedy, the Hoxsey treatment.)

Indian rhubarb (Rheum palmatum): This plant has been demonstrated to have antitumor activity in the sarcoma 37 test system (5). (Again, conþicting tests did not show such activity.) Certain chemicals in Indian rhubarb, such as aloe emodin, catechin and rhein, "have shown antitumor activity in some animal test systems," according to the OfÞce of Technology Assessment report on unconventional cancer treatments (6).

Sorrel: NCI is said to have tested one sample of Taiwanese sorrel and found no activity against mouse leukemia. But again, aloe emodin, isolated from sorrel, does show "signiÞcant antileukemic activity" (7, 8).

Slippery elm: NCI tested slippery elm and found no activity. But slippery elm contains beta-sitosterol and a polysaccharide, both of which have shown activity (9).

Several cases of poisoning have been reported from drinking commercial burdock root tea (10). "It is important to consider plant sources in the differential diagnosis of the poisoned patient," Arizona doctors wrote. No acute toxicity was seen with Essiac in the MSKCC tests, although there was said to be a slight weight loss in treated animals. NCI, however, claimed to see lethal toxicity at the highest concentrations of Essiac given to animals.

©1993 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.

Source:  Essiac Tea From: Cancer Therapy © 1992 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.


It is sometimes claimed that alternative treatments are a cruel rip-off that further impoverishes desperate cancer patients. But what about Essiac (TM), a Native American remedy popularized by the late Canadian nurse, Rene Caisse (1889-1978)? While Essiac-type formulas are available at a reasonable cost in many health food stores, the brew is potentially even less expensive, since it is derived from weeds found in many backyards.

Essiac's use is growing in both the U.S. and Canada, where it is legal, but only for terminal cancer patients. Because of its underground popularity, some entrepreneurs have tried to cash in. Companies have come out with competing formulas to trademarked Essiac, some with deceptively similar names or claims to authenticity. Some patients complain about the confusion.

Canadian author Sheila Snow has been studying the question for 20 years. In a 1993 book*, she writes that "certain groups and individuals have been flooding the Canadian market with products reputed to be made from [the] original recipe." Naturally, "each distributor denies the authenticity of other competitor concoctions."

Yet, according to Snow, there is one way to increase the chances of getting an authentic version of Essiac—make it yourself, either from wildcrafted herbs or from those purchased from respectable dealers.

All companies agree that four basic herbs are always present in this Native American formula; some of these have immune-modulating properties (see R. W. Moss's Cancer Therapy, pp. 146-148). According to Snow, the authentic Essiac decoction can be homemade from ingredients obtainable from any good herb store. The prices we cite below are from one such firm, chosen at random from the New York phone book: Aphrodisia (The total cost of these dry ingredients is $21.74).

According to Snow, these dried herbs can be used to create enough liquid brew for a daily one ounce dose for 18 to 24 months. In other words, homemade, this treatment costs about4 cents per day. No wonder, in the era of $150,000 bone marrow transplants, Essiac is becoming more popular.

Snow gives complete instructions for preparing the brew. One thoroughly mixes these dry ingredients in a bowl, then pours the dry mixture into a wide-mouth glass jar and shakes well. One mixes 1 1/2 quarts of distilled water to every ounce of the dry mixture and boils it up in a stainless steel, lidded pot. After boiling hard for 10 minutes, turn off the heat, says Snow, scrape down the sides of the pot, and stir well. The pot then sits for 10-12 hours. To preserve a supply, one must sterilize the implements and reheat the liquid until it is steaming hot, but not boiling. One strains the mixture and puts it in bottles. The caps of the bottle are tightened and then and set aside to cool. Once the bottles are opened, they should be refrigerated, but not frozen.

It is important to question the source and authenticity of the herbs. For example, there are over 100 species of "sorrel" but it is important to make sure one is getting real sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), and not some substitute, such as ordinary garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa).

The final product looks somewhat like apple cider or light honey and has a mild, earthy aroma and a flavor that some patients refer to as "punk"—a little like dry, decayed wood. To use, Snow says one should:

  • Shake the bottle gently to mix any settled sediment.
  • Take 1 oz. of the decoction in 2 oz. of hot water on an empty stomach, 2 to 3 hours after supper each night.
  • Refrain from food or drink for 1 hour after taking it.
  • Quick Doctor agreed in saying allow at least 3 hrs. to elapse between using Essiac and any prescription drug or treatment.

    Some patients complain of nausea and/or indigestion after taking Essiac, says Snow. This may be because they take it on a full stomach. Large doses of burdock root tea have also been found toxic in certain cases. For more information, see the article on Essiac in Cancer Therapy as well as Snow.


  • 13 (measuring cup) ozs. burdock root (Arctium lappa), cut into small pieces; $1.00 per oz.
  • 4 oz. (scale weight) powdered sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) herb; $1.75 per oz.
  • 1 oz. (scale weight) powdered slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) inner bark; $1.40 per oz.
  • 1/4 oz. (scale weight) Turkey rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) root. $1.35 per oz. (Powder before use.)

©1993 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.

Source: Cancer Chronicles article on "Essiac--The Secret is Out"

Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. is the author of many books and documentaries on cancer-related topics. He has been an advisor on alternative cancer treatments to the National Institutes of Health, Columbia University, and the University of Texas. He researches and writes The Moss Reports on cancer. For information, please contact coordinator Anne Beattie at 800-980-1234 (814-238-3367 when calling from outside the USA) or email her at


1. Foldeak S and Dombradi G. Tumor-growth inhibiting substances of plant origin. I. Isolation of the active principle of Arctium lappa. Acta Phys Chem.1964;10:91-93.

2. Dombradi C and Foldeak S. Screening report on the antitumor activity of puriÞed Arctium lappa extracts. Tumori.1966;52:173.

3. Morita K, et al. A desmutagenic factor isolated from burdock (Arctium lappa Linne). Mutat Res.1984;129:25-31.

4. WHO. In vitro screening of traditional medicines for anti-HIV activity: memorandum from a WHO meeting. Bul. WHO (Switzerland), 1989;67:613-618.

5. Belkin M and Fitzgerald D. Tumor damaging capacity of plant materials. 1. Plants used as cathartics. J Natl Cancer Inst.1952;13:139-155.

6. US Congress, OfÞce of Technology Assessment (OTA). Unconventional cancer treatments. Washington, DC: US Government Printing OfÞce, 1990.

7. Kupchan SM and Karim A. Tumor inhibitors. Aloe emodin: antileukemic principle isolated from Rhamnus frangula L. Lloydia.1976;39: 223-4.

8. Morita H, et al. Cytotoxic and mutagenic effects of emodin on cultured mouse carcinoma FM3A cells. Mutat Res.1988;204:329-32.

9. Pettit GR, et al. Antineoplastic agents. The yellow jacket Vespula pensylvanica. Lloydia.1977;40:247-52.

10. Rhoads P, et al. Anticholinergic poisonings associated with commercial burdock root tea. J Toxicol.1984-85;22:581-584.

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