The Truth About Essiac Tea

The Truth About Essiac Tea

The Truth About Essiac Tea

Lanny Messinger

On a fateful day in 1922 Canadian nurse Rene Caisse happened to notice some scar tissue on the breast of an elderly woman. The woman said that doctors had diagnosed her with breast cancer years before. However, the woman didn't want to risk surgery nor did she have the money for it.

As luck would have it, she had met an old Indian medicine man who told her that he could cure her cancer with an herbal tea. The woman took the medicine man's advice, and consequently she was still alive nearly thirty years later to pass on this herbal remedy to Nurse Caisse.

About a year later, Rene Caisse was walking beside a retired doctor who pointed to a common weed and stated: "Nurse Caisse, if people would use this weed there would be little cancer in the world."

Rene later stated: "He told me the name of the plant. It was one of the herbs my patient named as an ingredient of the Indian medicine man's tea!" The "weed" was sheep sorrel.

In 1924 she decided to test the tea on her aunt who had cancer of the stomach and was given about six months to live. Her aunt lived for another 21 years, cancer free.

Rene Caisse (pronounced "Reen Case") later gave the tea to her 72-year old mother who was diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the liver, with only days to live. Her mother recovered and lived without cancer for another 18 years.

In the ensuing years Nurse Caisse refined and perfected the original "medicine man's" formula. She tested various herbal combinations on laboratory mice and on human cancer patients. She eventually reduced the tea to four herbs: burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm and turkey rhubarb. She called the formula Essiac, which is her surname spelled backwards.

Rene Caisse devoted over fifty years of her life to treating thousands of cancer patients with Essiac. So effective were her free treatments that in 1938 her supporters gathered 55,000 signatures for a petition to present to the Ontario legislature to "authorise Rene Caisse to practice medicine in the Province of Ontario in the treatment of cancer and conditions therein". Unfortunately, due to the machinations of the Canadian Medical Association, the bill failed to pass by just three votes.


Rene Caisse operated her cancer clinic under the supervision and observation of a number of doctors. Based on what those doctors saw with their own eyes, eight of them signed a petition to the Department of National Health and Welfare at Ottawa, asking that Nurse Caisse be given facilities to do independent research on her discovery. Their petition, dated at Toronto on October 27, 1926, read as follows:

To Whom It May Concern:

"We the undersigned believe that the 'Treatment for Cancer' given by Nurse R.M. Caisse can do no harm and that it relieves pain, will reduce the enlargement and will prolong life in hopeless cases. To the best of our knowledge, she has not been given a case to treat until everything in medical and surgical science has been tried without effect and even then she was able to show remarkable beneficial results on those cases at that late stage.

"We would be interested to see her given an opportunity to prove her work in a large way. To the best of our knowledge she has treated all cases free of any charge and has been carrying on this work over the period of the past two years."

Initially, Rene was not aware of the control that the medical/pharmaceutical establishment had over governments. After the petition was delivered to the National Health and Welfare Department, she was continually threatened with arrest until she finally withdrew from public view. Unlike Nurse Caisse, the medical establishment was more interested in making money than in helping people. Essiac was cheap. It could cut into the lucrative profits from radiation, chemotherapy and surgery–treatments that often did more harm than good. Essiac is non-toxic. Rene said, "Chemotherapy should be a criminal offense."

The story of Rene Caisse's struggle to make Essiac an official cancer treatment was told by Dr. Gary Glum in his book CALLING OF AN ANGEL: ESSIAC, NATURE'S CURE FOR CANCER. In a telephone conversation Dr. Glum stated that people who take Essiac on a regular, preventive basis do not get cancer. Dr. Glum interviewed JFK's personal physician, Dr. Charles Brusch, who stated: "I know Essiac has curing potential. It can lessen the condition of the individual, control it, and it can cure it."

Dr. Ralph Moss was appointed to the Cancer Advisory Panel that evaluates alternative cancer therapies for the government. On his web site and in his book CANCER THERAPY, Dr. Moss points out that each of the herbs in Essiac has been scientifically shown to contain anticancer substances. In his "Cancer Chronicles" [], Dr. Moss notes Essiac's rising popularity by comparing Essiac's low cost to a $150,000 bone marrow transplant.


Dr.Frederick Banting, the co-discoverer of insulin became interested in Essiac and even offered Nurse Caisse research facilities to test it. According to Rene, Dr. Banting stated that "Essiac must actuate the pancreatic gland into normal functioning". Even today diabetics are using Essiac to improve their condition and many have gone off insulin entirely.

Essiac has become widely known for its remarkable ability to boost the immune system and detoxify the body. Many people who drink Essiac tea regularly report feeling healthier with less incidence of colds and flu. Burdock, for example, has a well-established reputation for detoxification and support of the liver and organs of elimination.

(Arctium lappa)

For centuries burdock root has been regarded as an effective blood purifier that neutralizes and eliminates poisons from the body. Burdock contains a volatile oil–especially in the seeds–that is eliminated through the sweat glands, taking toxins with it and alleviating skin problems. Burdock contains niacin, which is known to eliminate poisons from the body, including radiation. Burdock also supports the bladder, kidney and liver and has been said to dissolve kidney stones. It also contains an abundance of minerals, particularly iron. Studies have shown anti-tumor activity in burdock. Japanese scientists have isolated an anti-mutation property in burdock, which they call the "B factor". The Japanese grow burdock root for food as well as medicine. A memorandum from the World Health Organization revealed that burdock was active against HIV.

(Rumex acetosella)

Rene Caisse isolated sheep sorrel as the main Essiac herb that caused regression of metastasized cancer and reduction of tumors.

She used the whole herb including the roots. Dr. Ralph Moss points out that sheep sorrel contains aloe emodin, a natural substance that shows significant anti-leukemic activity. Sheep sorrel contains antioxidants, is diuretic and has been used to check hemorrhages. It has also been used for food.

(Ulmus rubra/fulva)

The inner bark of the slippery elm tree is well-known for its soothing and healing properties. It reduces inflammations such as sore throat, diarrhea and urinary problems. It has been regarded as both a food and medicine. Dr. Moss noted that "slippery elm contains beta-sitosterol and a polysaccharide, both of which have shown [anti-cancer] activity.

(Rheum palmatum)

Turkey Rhubarb has been shown to have anti-tumor activity. It is diuretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and has been used extensively to relieve constipation. It is medicinally more potent than garden rhubarb root and is more palatable.


Due to the ever-increasing popularity of Essiac, numerous entrepreneurs have jumped on the Essiac bandwagon with their own four, six, or eight-herb products. Unfortunately, Rene never published the formula and it appears that she experimented with different herbal combinations. Therefore, it is understandable that there would be controversies over who has the correct formula or the best product. Curiously, ESSIAC didn't become a trademark name until several years after Dr. Glum published the Essiac recipe. Yellow dock or garden sorrel is sometimes substituted for sheep sorrel. Imported turkey rhubarb may be irradiated, fumigated or both. So how do you know if you are buying the real, unaltered Essiac?

I often receive emails from people who report being confused about Essiac tea after visiting various web sites with conflicting information. This wealth of misinformation that has obfuscated the Essiac formula has compelled me to help clarify the issues with documented evidence. Unfortunately, Rene is not alive today to remind people that it's all about "helping suffering humanity", not money. As Rene stated in "I Was Canada's Cancer Nurse", "respect and love of our fellow man are more important than riches." Sheila Snow, author of ESSIAC ESSENTIALS, knew Rene Caisse personally and fortunately has obtained a great deal of documentation to dispel much of the confusion about Essiac tea.

Essiac is truly a multi-cultural phenomenon. So here are the plain, non-commercial facts:

1) Essiac marketers often claim that Essiac is an Ojibway Indian formula. Unfortunately, there is no hard evidence to substantiate this common belief. In "I Was Canada's Cancer Nurse" Rene Caisse referred only to "a very old Indian medicine man" without naming any specific tribe. Sheila Snow has researched this issue [See ESSIAC ESSENTIALS] and found that the "old Indian medicine man" could have been a member of the "Algonquin, Cree, Cherokee, Huron, Iroquois or Ojibwe" tribes living in northern Ontario in the late 1800s.

2) Turkey rhubarb (rheum palmatum) is native to China and Tibet, not northern Ontario, so it appears unlikely that it was a part of the original medicine man's formula of indigenous herbs in the late 1800s. Even today turkey rhubarb has still not established itself as a wild herb of North America. "The [turkey] rhubarb rhizome official in the British Pharmacopoeia, 1914, must be collected in China and Thibet. English-grown rhubarb is inferior to the official rhubarb in medicinal qualities."* Even the 1931 edition of A MODERN HERBAL reports that "We still depend upon Northern China and Thibet for Rhubarb."* It appears then that turkey rhubarb was an Asian-sourced modification made by Rene Caisse in her efforts to refine the formula. Since the modern North American diet of over-processed foods can cause chronic constipation which can promote cancer, Rene Caisse's decision to include turkey rhubarb in the formula appears to have been a wise one. One of the first benefits that I noticed when I first began drinking Essiac tea was that my bowel movements normalized. After drinking Essiac tea for four years, I embarked on a thorough colon cleanse and discovered that my colon was already clean from daily use of Essiac tea. Several well-known American herbalists believe that 80 to 95 percent of all illnesses are due to unclean colons. Turkey rhubarb is now being grown commercially in North America, and that may very well be due to the ever-increasing popularity of Essiac tea.

3) Burdock and sheep sorrel are not native to North America. It appears that both burdock and sheep sorrel were brought to this continent from Europe by early settlers who then passed on their knowledge of these two herbs to the local tribes. Burdock and sheep sorrel eventually spread throughout North America where water was sufficient. Unfortunately, they are often referred to as "weeds".

4) Slippery elm is the only Essiac herb native to North America.

In spite of the numerous, conflicting claims as to what the original Indian "medicine" man's formula was, no one has yet offered any verifiable evidence to settle that issue. Some claim it was a four-herb formula while others claim it was an eight-herb or six-herb formula. Many of these claims state that turkey rhubarb was one of the original herbs. Rene Caisse did experiment with a number of herbs and changed the formula through time. She finally settled on her four-herb formula. Since this four-herb formula was demonstrated by Rene Caisse and untold cancer patients to be an effective, health-giving remedy that has stood the test of time, the debate over what the original formula was may very well be a moot point.

The only person Rene Caisse trusted to help her make Essiac tea was her best friend, Mary McPherson. Mary had worked alongside Rene since the 1930s and knew the formula by heart. However, Mary had made a deathbed promise to Rene never to reveal the formula to anyone. Mary would have taken the Essiac formula to her grave, too, had it not been for Dr. Gary Glum. He purchased the formula for $120,000 from one of Rene's former patients. Dr. Glum could have kept the formula secret and become very wealthy selling bottles of Essiac. However, he unselfishly released the formula into the public domain in 1988. At first he offered the formula on a video tape that he advertised in his book, CALLLING OF AN ANGEL, but the feds unlawfully seized the tapes before he could sell very many of them. He then gave out the formula and recipe free of charge to anyone who mailed him a request for the Essiac formula.

When Dr. Glum met Mary McPherson in Bracebridge, Ontario and told her what the Essiac formula was, she was more than a little surprised. According to Dr. Glum, Mary eventually revealed the formula in 1994 because it was no longer a secret, and she wanted to end the controversy over the Essiac formula before she died. Therefore, on December 23, 1994 the "Essiac" formula & recipe was officially entered into the public domain with the recording of Mary McPherson's affidavit. 

In "I Was Canada's Canada Nurse" Rene Caisse stated one reason why she wanted to keep the formula secret: "I wanted to establish my remedy, which I called ESSIAC or my name spelled backward, in actual practice and not in a laboratory only. I knew it had no bad side affects, so it could do no harm. I wanted to use it on patients in my own way. And when the time came, I wanted to share in the administration of my own discovery."

Another reason why Rene kept the Essiac formula secret was that she didn't trust people to make it properly and she thought that it would be altered. For example, after Dr. Gary Glum published the four-herb Essiac formula, Canadian talk show host Elaine Alexander marketed an eight-herb formula, which included the four herbs that Glum published. She called her product "FLOR ESSENCE"™. She subsequently died of cancer. Even today a common misconception still exists that Elaine Alexander's formula is Rene Caisse's authentic Essiac Formula. However, Mary McPherson's recorded affidavit settled that controversy in 1994.

Every herbal formula has its own synergy and therefore creates a specific effect. Rene Caisse spent her life refining the formula with her hands-on research. No one else has done such extensive research on Essiac tea. The formula below was the final formula that she settled on after decades of experimentation and research with real cancer patients. Essiac works–Why change it by adding more herbs that may diminish its healing properties?


The following formula and recipe for Essiac (in italics) is a word-for-word transcription of the Essiac formula from the affidavit which Mary McPherson filed with the Town of Bracebridge. The formula below is also the one which Dr. Gary Glum released to the public in 1988 when he published Calling Of An Angel: Essiac, Nature's Cure For Cancer

Essiac 6 ½ cups of burdock root (cut)
1 pound of sheep sorrel herb powdered
1/4 pound of slippery elm bark powdered
1 ounce of Turkish rhubarb root powdered

Mix these ingredients thoroughly and store in glass jar in dark dry cupboard.

Take a measuring cup, use 1 ounce of herb mixture to 32 ounces of water depending on the amount you want to make.

I use one cup of mixture to 8 x 32 = 256 ounces of water. Boil hard for 10 minutes (covered) then turn off heat but leave sitting on warm plate over night (covered).

In the morning heat steaming hot and let settle a few minutes, then strain through fine strainer into hot sterilized bottles and sit to cool. Store in dark cool cupboard. Must be refrigerated when opened. When near the last when its thick pour in a large jar and sit in frig overnight then pour off all you [can] without sediment.

This recipe must be followed exactly as written.

I use a granite preserving kettle (10 – 12 qts), 8 ounce measuring cup, small funnel and fine strainer to fill bottles.


The preparation of Essiac is as important as the formula itself. Essiac is a decoction, not an infusion. An infusion is what people make when they put a tea bag in a cup of hot water. Generally speaking, an infusion tends to extract vitamins and volatile oils. A decoction is used to extract minerals, bitter components, etc. from hard materials such as roots, bark or seeds by boiling for a few minutes and then allowing the herbs to steep for several hours. Entrepreneurs often sell Essiac imitations in tincture form (herbs in alcohol) or in gelatin capsules; neither form is Essiac because Essiac is a tea and, more specifically, a decoction that must be made in a certain way in order to be effective.

People often substitute stainless steel for an enameled pot and lid. The main concern is not to use an aluminum pot. Also, be sure not to use unfiltered, chlorinated water. The formula above can be reduced to 1/2 cup of herb mix to one gallon of water. [Optional: Dr. Glum suggests adding 2 or 3 cups of extra water to replace water lost through evaporation during boiling. Also, the dry herbs will absorb water as well.] After boiling for ten minutes, let the tea steep about 12 hours. Then heat up tea to steaming, but not boiling. (Do not boil twice.) The remaining pulp can be used for healing poultices.

Don't use cheese cloth to strain Essiac. Likewise, do not use a kitchen sieve that has a very fine mesh as this may filter out the slippery elm. Slippery elm gives the tea a slight viscous [syrup-like] consistency when poured. If you do not notice this consistency after refrigerating your tea, you may be using a sieve that is too fine. Don't worry about herb particles in your Essiac; they will settle to the bottom of the jars. Some people drink the Essiac dregs, others don't. Some people give the Essiac dregs to their pets or farm animals as a health food. Many people have reported the same or similar health benefits with their pets that humans are reporting.

I have found from experience that it is best to refrigerate the Essiac tea as soon as it has cooled. Discard the tea if mold appears on the surface or if the tea does not taste right.

For preventive purposes, people often take about 2 oz. (1/4 cup) per day once or twice a day diluted with about 1/2 cup hot water. Herbalists recommend increasing daily water intake due to diuretic and detoxifying action; it takes lots of water to detoxify. People who are using Essiac to treat an illness or to eliminate toxins, sometimes take Essiac three or four times a day, depending on the situation. [Note: Rene Caisse recommended one ounce of Essiac, once or twice each day, but it is not certain how concentrated she was making the tea when she made that recommendation. She was using Essiac primarily to treat cancer. Today many people use Essiac to detoxify their bodies as well. We are exposed to a great deal more toxins in our environment and food today than when Rene operated her clinic in the 30s & 40s, so perhaps the increase in today's dosages may be well justified.] Essiac has a well-earned reputation for being non-toxic and people often take 2 ounces (1/4 cup) of Essiac taken three times each day. Do not eat or drink anything (except water) one hour before to one hour after taking Essiac. Rene Caisse recommended that Essiac tea be taken at bedtime, but it can be taken any time of day. Some people don't like to take any liquids before bedtime because it makes them have to urinate during the night, thus interrupting a good night's sleep.

Make sure that the sheep sorrel you use is the small, wild variety of sheep sorrel and not a substitute like yellow dock or garden (French) sorrel. Imported turkey rhubarb root could be fumigated or irradiated. Many Essiac merchants are unaware of the quality of their herbs. The best way to insure that you're getting true Essiac is to grow the herbs yourself. This puts you in control of product quality and takes out the commercialism. Burdock root is harvested in the fall of the first year. Slippery elm bark is usually wildcrafted and is easy to buy. Turkey Rhubarb is the only herb in Essiac that cannot be wildcrafted in the US. The Chinese use six year old turkey rhubarb roots for maximum potency. However, it is currently difficult to find domestically-grown roots that old.


*Quotes are from A MODERN HERBAL, first published by Jonathan Cape, 1931

{All Rights Reserved 2003 Lanny Messinger; This article may be reproduced and distributed only under the following conditions: 1) that it be free of charge; 2) that it be reproduced in its entirety without any alteration whatsoever; and 3) that anyone wishing to post this article on a website must first obtain permission from the author. Contact Lanny Messinger at}

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