What is Essiac?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 23 December 2019
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Essiac® is an herbal remedy that was first named and promoted by Rene Caisse, a Canadian nurse. Essiac® is a blend of four herbs: burdock root, Indian rhubarb, slippery elm inner bark, and sheep sorrel. It is typically sold in capsule, powder, and liquid form. Nurse Caisse claimed that she learned of the remedy in the mid-1920s from the wife of a miner, who claimed that it cured her breast cancer. The miner's wife told Nurse Caisse she learned of the remedy from an Ojibway Indian and that it was a traditional Indian remedy. The original Essiac® formula is still being sold, along with at least 40 different commercially available herbal remedies that claim to be based on Essiac®.

After her encounter with the miner's wife, Nurse Caisse became interested in the remedy. When her aunt fell ill, Nurse Caisse administered the herbal remedy in the form of a tea. Her aunt recovered, and Nurse Caisse began to do more research on the herbal blend; she eventually named it Essiac®, which is simply Caisse spelled backward. Other cancer victims began to hear of Nurse Caisse's research and began to seek her out for treatment. Nurse Caisse eventually opened up her own clinic in Bracebridge, Ontario, where she treated cancer victims with the formula for free.


While Nurse Caisse had her supporters in the medical establishment, she also faced a great deal of opposition, and her clinic closed in 1942. Nurse Caisse insisted on keeping the exact formula a secret, which contributed to her difficulty in getting both government and medical authorities to recognize her claims that Essiac® is a cancer cure. Eventually, however, Nurse Caisse handed over her formula to Resperin™, a Canadian company that continues to produce and sell the remedy.

Several studies have been done on Essiac® as a cancer cure, though these studies have often been criticized for their methodology; questions also have been raised about the integrity of the herbal formula used in the testing. The formula and its offshoots are used to treat a variety of maladies, including HIV and AIDS, thyroid conditions, lupus, diabetes, and Lyme disease. Essiac® is also sometimes consumed as a general tonic by people who are otherwise healthy. While there is little scientific evidence for the efficacy of Essiac® in treating any medical condition, it remains a popular herbal supplement that is found in many natural food stores and in alternative medicine clinics.



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