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The Herbal Formula Known as Essiac

November 10, 2014



Jeff & Cheryl Hoard



"It is from nature that the disease arises and from nature comes

the cure, not from the physician."  – Paracelsus [1493?-1541]



In 1922, a Canadian nurse, Rene M. Caisse met an elderly woman who had some 20 years prior been successfully treated for breast cancer by a Native American acquaintance using only a combination of herbs. The formula was a simple one; the herbs common: Burdock Root (Arctium lappa), Sheep Sorrel(Rumex acetosella), Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus fulva) and Rhubarb Root(Rheum palmatum). Until her death in 1977, nurse Caisse attained amazing results treating thousands of terminally ill patients with these herbs at her clinic in Toronto. Today, over 20 years after her death, the simple herb formula now known as Essiac (Caisse spelled backward) continues to be as popular as ever.


Indication of the use of Sheep Sorrel as an anticancer agent dates back as far as the late 1740s when legislation was introduced in Williamsburg, Virginia which allowed its use as a treatment for cancer. More recently, Dr. Edward E. Shook in his Advanced Treatise on Herbology notes the anticancer properties of Sheep Sorrel. Dr. Shook attributes this to the presence of oxalic acid which, among other things, stimulates the peristaltic action of the intestines.


Burdock Root has been used for centuries and its blood and liver purifying qualities have been much documented. In 1984, scientists at Nagoya University in Japan, discovered a substance in Burdock Root capable of reducing cell mutation and which is resistant to both heat and protein-digesting enzymes.


Slippery Elm Bark is well known as a nutritive tonic which feeds, soothes and strengthens the organs, tissues and mucous membranes, especially the lungs and stomach. Perhaps the most notable component of Slippery Elm Bark is its mucilage, a naturally formed sticky or viscous fiber that consists of a gum dissolved in the juices of a plant and is similar to that found in flaxseed.


The use of Rhubarb Root is documented in Chinese Medicine as early as 220 BC to eliminate "heat" from the small intestine. When taken in small amounts it exerts a gentle laxative action by stimulating the secretion of bile into the intestine.


Information on Essiac abounds. A recent search on the internet brought up 326,000 sites! An interesting one with lots of links to other sites is: There are several books about Essiac. Most (like The Essiac Report by Richard Thomas) prove to be disappointing – nothing more than a collection of testimonials all leading to one particular brand. One book we especially like is The Essence of Essiac by Sheila Snow (ISBN 0-9698944-0-6) who knew and worked with Rene M. Caisse. This book gives the most information about the formula, the herbs (including complete chemical breakdown) and history of Essiac and is reasonably priced at $13.


The efficacy of any current cancer treatment can certainly be called into question. The rates of success of "conventional" (and alarmingly invasive) therapies – chemotherapy, radiation and surgery – are surprisingly low yet the amount of money spent on continued research (not to mention the perpetuation of an entire industry!) remains staggeringly high. Indeed, the success rate achieved with Essiac would not appear to be any less than that of "conventional" treatments. It would seem, therefore time for herbal medicine in general and this formula in particular to take their rightful place as viable healthcare alternatives.



First published in Spirit Seeker, Vol. 3, No. 2, Feb.-Mar. 1999.


National Cancer Institute Overview of Essiac

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