Essiac® contains a combination of herbs, including burdock root (Arctium lappa), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), slippery elm inner bark (Ulmus fulva), and Turkish rhubarb (Rheum palmatum). The original formula was developed by the Canadian nurse Rene Caisse (1888-1978) in the 1920s ("Essiac" is Caisse spelled backwards). The recipe is said to be based on a traditional Ojibwa (Native American) remedy, and Caisse administered the formula by mouth and injection to numerous cancer patients during the 1920s and 1930s. The exact ingredients and amounts in the original formulation remain a secret.
During investigations by the Canadian government and public hearings in the late 1930s, it remained unclear if Essiac® was an effective cancer treatment. Amidst controversy, Caisse closed her clinic in 1942. In the 1950s, Caisse provided samples of Essiac® to Dr. Charles Brusch, founder of the Brusch Medical Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who administered Essiac® to patients (it is unclear if Brusch was given access to the secret formula). According to some accounts, additional herbs were added to these later formulations, including blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus), red clover (Trifolium pratense), kelp (Laminaria digitata), and watercress (Nasturtium officinale).
A laboratory at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center tested Essiac® samples (provided by Caisse) on mice during the 1970s. This research was never formally published, and there is controversy regarding the results, with some accounts noting no benefits, and others reporting significant effects (including an account by Dr. Brusch). Questions were later raised of improper preparation of the formula. Caisse subsequently refused requests by researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and the U.S. National Cancer Institute for access to the recipe.
In the 1970s, Caisse provided the formula to Resperin Corporation Ltd., with the understanding that Resperin would coordinate a scientific trial in humans. Although a study was initiated, it was stopped early amidst questions of improper preparation of the formula and inadequate study design. This research was never completed. Resperin Corporation Ltd., which owned the Essiac® name, formally went out of business after transferring rights to the Essiac® name and selling the secret formula to Essiac Products Ltd., which currently distributes products through Essiac® International.
Despite the lack of available scientific evidence, Essiac® and Essiac-like products (with similar ingredients) remain popular among patients, particularly in those with cancer. Essiac® is most commonly taken as a tea. A survey conducted in the year 2000 found almost 15% of Canadian women with breast cancer to be using Essiac®. It has also become popular in patients with HIV and diabetes, and in healthy individuals for its purported immune-enhancing properties, although there is a lack of reliable scientific research in these areas.
There are more than 40 Essiac-like products available in North America, Europe, and Australia. Flor-Essence® includes the original four herbs (burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm bark, Turkish rhubarb) as well as herbs that were later added as "potentiators" (blessed thistle, red clover, kelp, watercress). Virginias Herbal E-Tonic™ contains the four original herbs along with echinacea and black walnut. Other commercial formulations may include additional ingredients, such as cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa).

Related Terms

Burdock root (Arctium lappa) synonyms/related terms: Akujitsu, anthraxivore, arctii, Arctium minus, Arctium tomentosa, bardana, Bardanae Radix, bardane, bardane grande (French), beggar's buttons, burr, burr seed, chin, clot-burr, clotbur, cocklebur, cockle button, cocklebuttons, cuckold, daiki kishi, edible burdock, fox's clote, grass burdock, great bur, great burdock, great burdocks, gobo (Japan), Grosse klette (German), happy major, hardock, hare burr, hurrburr, Kletterwurzel (German), lampazo (Spanish), lappola, love leaves, niu bang zi, oil of lappa, personata, Philanthropium, thorny burr, turkey burrseed, woo-bang-ja, wild gobo.
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) synonyms/related terms: Acedera, acid sorrel, azeda-brava, buckler leaf, cigreto, common sorrel, cuckoo sorrow, cuckoo's meate, dock, dog-eared sorrel, field sorrel, French sorrel, garden sorrel, gowke-meat, greensauce, green sorrel, herba acetosa, kemekulagi, Polygonaceae (family), red sorrel, red top sorrel, round leaf sorrel, Rumex scutatus, Rumex acetosa L., sheephead sorrel, sheep's sorrel, sorrel, sorrel dock, sour dock, sour grass, sour sabs, sour suds, sour sauce, Wiesensauerampfer, wild sorrel.
Slippery elm inner bark (Ulmus fulva) synonyms/related terms: Indian elm, moose elm, red elm, rock elm, slippery elm, sweet elm, Ulmaceae, Ulmi rubrae cortex, Ulmus fulva Michaux, Ulmus rubra, winged elm.
Turkish rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) synonyms/related terms: Baoshen pill, Canton rhubarb, Chinesischer Rhabarber (German), Chinese rhubarb, chong-gi-huang, common rhubarb, da-huang, Da Huang, daio, Da huang Liujingao, English rhubarb, Extractum Rhei Liquidum, Himalayan Rhubarb, Indian rhubarb, Japanese rhubarb, Jiang- Zhi Jian-Fel Yao (JZJFY), Jinghuang tablet, medicinal rhubarb, pie rhubarb, Polygonaceae (family), Pyralvex, Pyralvex Berna, racine de rhubarbee (French), RET (Rhubarb extract tablet), rhabarber, rhei radix, rhei rhizoma, rheum, Rheum australe, Rheum emodi Wall, Rheum officinale Baill, Rheum rhabarbarum, Rheum rhaponticum L., Rheum tanguticum Maxim, Rheum tanguticum Maxim. ex. Balf., Rheum tanguticum Maxim L., Rheum undulatum, Rheum x cultorum, Rheum webbianum (Indian or Himalayan rhubarb), rhizoma, rheirhubarbe de chine (French), rhubarb, rubarbo, ruibarbo (Spanish), shenshi rhubarb, tai huang, Turkey rhubarb.

evidence table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Cancer (Grade: C)
There is a lack of properly conducted published human studies using Essiac® for cancer. Currently, there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against the use of this herbal mixture as a therapy for any type of cancer.