Vol. 2, #17
April 30, 2005

Q: What is Essiac and what is it used for? - Layperson

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

After word of Caisse's [the founder of Essiac Tea] impressive results spread to the United States, a leading diagnostician in Chicago introduced her to Dr. John Wolfer, director of the tumor clinic at Northwestern University Medical School. In 1937, Wolfer arranged for Rene to treat thirty terminal cancer patients under the direction of five doctors. Rene commuted across the border to Chicago, carrying her bottles of freshly prepared herbal brew. After supervising one and a half years of Essiac therapy, the Chicago doctors concluded that the herbal mixture prolonged life, shrank tumors, and relieved pain. "

Many believe Rene Caisse (pronounced "reen case") is one of the greater heroines of the past century. In fact, she was a hero in the true sense.

This modest Canadian nurse discovered a natural herbal forumla that she claimed helped Cancer suferrers, yet she took no money for it and died in relative obscurity.

She helped restore hope to the hopeless, and many claim she restored health and life where only death was left. She helped hundreds both in body and soul — such was her giving way.

Rene didn't feel herself a writer so she never wrote an autobiography. She did, however, write a 39 page booklet entitled "I Was Canada's Cancer Nurse" which was published in the seventies. Additionally, a collection of her writing and interviews was published posthumously in the Bracebridge Examiner.

A Great Discovery

In the 1920s a fateful encounter with a prospector's wife who had survived breast cancer opened the door to the helping power of the four Essiac herbs. She tells it here in her own words (click here).

Initial Treatments Held Promise

The initial Essiac treatments were so promising, a group of doctors assisted her in setting up a test lab and clinic in Toronto. Both cancerous mice and patients showed remarkable progress. She tells it again here in her own words (click here).

The Bracebridge Clinic

She was invited by the Bracebridge Town Council to open her clinic in the old British Lion Hotel. Her lease payment, as stipulated by the Council, was $1 per month. It was here she ran a Cancer Clinic from 1934 to 1942.

Challenging the Establishment

Even before she opened the clinic, the medical establishment viewed her with skepticism. With the clinic now open, the full weight of the establishment unrelentingly bore down on her for years to come.

A Requiem for Rene

Rene Caisse passed from this world on the day after Christmas, 1978, at 90 years of age..


Rene Caisse
Rene Caisse in her familiar white nurse's uniform.







Rene Caisse, R.N.

Special Media Presentation
"A Tribute to Nurse Rene Caisse"

The Rene Caisse Essiac Recipe

The "old medicine man" recipe was 8 herbs -- the 4 essiac herbs, periwinkle, red clover and watercress. Rene Caisse left no written record of the 8th herb. According to Essiac Essentials, in the early 1920's while working with Dr. Fisher, Rene "tested decoctions of each herb individually until the eight original herbs were gradually modified down to the four herbs in the recipe as we know it today, i.e., Burdock root, Sheep Sorrel, Slippery Elm inner bark and Turkey rhubarb root."

Rene Caisse signed over her formula to Resperin Corporation in 1977 and she died the next year. In 1995 Resperin Corporation sold the formula to the current Canadian Essiac® trademark holder.

But Rene had revealed her formula to a few people, including her helper Mary McPherson, who continued making Essiac for Rene's remaining patients before and after Rene's death in 1978. Mary's sworn affidavit (made on December 23, 1994, Bracebridge, Ontario) revealed Rene's recipe and brewing instructions. In 1988, Mary was present when Gary Glum claimed he had bought the recipe from Rene's patient Pat Judson of Michigan. Mary later verified Glum's recipe as authentic.

Rene Caisse's measurements are confusing. She used volume (in cups) for Burdock and weight (in ounces) for the other three herbs. The book Essiac Essentials solves this problem by using weight units for Burdock too, specifying Buckock root chopped to size of small peas. Burdock is the only "cut" herb, the recipe calls for the powdered form of the other herbs.

Also below are Rene's recommended doses and possible side effects of taking essiac.

  Ingredients using US/Canada/Imperial/Metric measurements:

Herb Volume Weight Form Recipe %
Burdock root 6 ½ cups 24 ozs. (1.5 lb.) 680g pea-size cut 53%
Sheep sorrel   16 ozs. (1 lb.) 453g powdered 36%
Slippery Elm bark   4 ozs. 113g powdered 9%
Turkey rhubarb root   1 oz.        28.35g powdered 2%

  • Mix the herbs together very very thoroughly.
  • Use 1 cup of herb mix per 2 gallons distilled water each time you brew.
  • Your herb mix or essiac herbs should be stored properly.

"This makes a year's supply for $5.00 or £3.72" according to Essiac Essentials,
written in 1999.

Herb Volume Weight Form % of Recipe
Burdock root   4.25 ozs. 120g pea-size cut 53%
Sheep sorrel   2.8 ozs. 80g powdered 36%
Slippery Elm bark   0.7 ozs. 20g powdered 9%
Turkey rhubarb root   0.18 oz. 5g powdered 2%

Scales: "The Gourmet Weigh" scale by Metrokane for $24.99 does ounce/metric weight. Metrokane also has "Scale Polder" ounce/metric for weighing up to 7 pounds, for $14.99.

Another approach is to use volume measurements, if you are allergic to metric measurements. The trouble with volume measurement is that herb volume can vary widely depending on supplier.

    To make 1 cup of mix to brew with 2 gallons of distilled water:

    Burdock root (cut) =   1/2 cup
    Sheep Sorrel (powdered) =   3/8 cup
    Slippery Elm bark (powdered) =   2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons
    Turkey rhubarb (powdered) =   1 teaspoon

Approximate number of bottles of tea made, depending on water loss

1 cup herb mix + 2 gallons of water = about 224 liquid ounces of tea
will fill fourteen 16-ounce pint bottles, or seven 32-ounce quart bottles.

1/2 cup herb mix + 1 gallon of water = about 112 liquid ounces of tea
will fill seven 16-ounce bottles, or three and a half 32-ounce quart bottles.

1/4 cup herb mix + 1/2 gallon of water = about 56 liquid ounces of tea
will fill three and a half 16-ounce bottles, or almost two 32-ounce quart bottles.

Supplies Needed  Do not use anything made of aluminum.

Stainless steel kettle with lid (or glass, UK unchipped enamel, CND granite pot)
Stainless steel sieve
Large stainless steel or wood stirring utensil
Stainless steel funnel or 2-cup glass measuring cup
Glass bottles can be amber, colored or clear glass

Sizes of kettle and how many bottles depend on amount of tea prepared.
3 gallon kettle and 14 bottles are ideal for 1 cup herb mix + 2 gallons of water.

Bottles and lids can be sterilized by one of these methods:

1)  Boil for 10 minutes with a little food grade peroxide or Clorox.
2)  Boil bottle caps, put bottles in 250 degree oven for 10 minutes.
3)  Soak for 5 minutes in 1 ounce 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide plus 11 oz. distilled water.
4)  Soak for 5 minutes in 1/2 teaspoon Clorox plus 1 gallon distilled water.
5)  16 oz. size bottles can be sterilized in a microwave oven carefully.

The water you use for making essic tea should be as pure as possible. Don't use tap water. Most people use distilled water. Nice but not vital, you can "re-energize and re-oxygenate" distilled water by shaking it well or setting it in the sun for a few hours.

Preparation is pretty much the same in essiac books by Snow/Klein and Cynthia Olsen:

  1. Mix dry ingredients thoroughly.
  2. Measure out desired amount of dry ingredients.
  3. Pour proportionate amount of water into pot.
  4. Bring water to a rolling boil with the lid on.
  5. Stir dry ingredients into boiling water.
  6. Replace lid and continue boiling at reduced heat for 10 minutes.
  7. Turn off stove. Scrape down sides of pot and stir mixture thoroughly.
  8. Replace lid, let pot sit and cool undisturbed for 10-12 hours (overnight).

  9. Reheat to steaming hot, but do not let it boil.
  10. Turn off heat and allow herbs to settle for a few minutes.
  11. Pour hot liquid through sieve to catch sediment.
  12. Use funnel to fill sterilized bottles, put lids on.
  13. Allow bottles to cool, then tighten lids.
  14. Store in dark cool place, always refrigerate an opened bottle.

Essiac contains no preservatives, discard if mold develops. "When in doubt, throw it out".

Unopened bottles can be stored in a cool, dark place, or keep all the bottles in the refrigerater. Don't freeze essiac or warm it up in a microwave (use hot water to dilute and warm it).

Directions for Use according to the book Essiac Essentials:

1 fluid ounce (30 ml) essiac tea per day, diluted in 2 fluid ounces (60 ml) hot water.
This should be sipped, preferably at bedtime on an empty stomach.
Food should not be eaten within one hour before/after drinking the tea.

As a daily tonic or to enhance the immune system:

Take half a fluid ounce (15 ml) per day, diluted in one ounce hot water.

According to Sheila Snow and Mali Klein on page 41 of their book Essiac Essentials,
"It is very important to use the dosage as Rene recommended, which was based on more than 54 years' experience. Rene was very concerned about this, which is why she personally administered the dose to her patients." Depending on special circumstances, Rene would sometimes advise an initial dose of one fluid ounce twice daily for the first five, ten or (rarely) thirty days before reducing to one fluid ounce once a day. In the same book Rene Caisse is quoted as saying,

    "There is no need to to exceed this dose."

    "People will not stick to the dose I give. They'll decide on their own
    -- if a little's good, a lot's better. That's the way they think.

And nowadays you will find almost all essiac products recommend higher doses.

Notes about side effects

Cynthia Olsen says in Essiac, A Native Herbal Cancer Remedy, 2nd Edition page 61,

    Though side effects are rare when taking Essiac, there are three general ones:
    1. nausea and/or indigestion, generally caused by eating or drinking too soon before or after drinking the tea,
    2. severe intestinal or digestive discomfort, caused principally because as toxins dissolve, the body tries to eliminate them quickly,
    3. an increase in the size of an existing tumor, caused by the metastasized cells gathering at the original site, before the tumor softens and reduces in size.

Sheila Snow says in her book Essence of Essiac on page 48,

    Here are three possible causes of adverse reactions:
    1. A full stomach of undgested food or consuming beverage just before taking the remedy, especially tea or coffee.
    2. Waste materials build up in the body, it attempts to eliminate them all at once. This could create extreme discomfort in the digestive tract, occasionally to the point of vomiting.
    3. A tumor may increase in size (as metastisized cells are gathered to original site) and could cause a blockage... before it softens and reduces in size.

    "When any discomfort occured, Rene always cautioned her patients to stop taking the decoction for several days until they felt better. Then they were told to begin again with just half an ounce every other day and gradually to increase the dose to one ounce each day. This usually corrected the problem."

Observations by essiac-info.org are that diarrhea, lower-back kidney ache, flu-like symptoms or upset stomach are usually caused by too high of a dose and not drinking enough water. If you become itchy or develop rashes, that could be an allergy to one or more of the essiac herbs.

Anyone taking essiac should increase their water intake, based on the alledged "detoxification" properties of essiac, which is the release of toxins from tissues and blood, excreting them via the intestinal and urinary tracts. According to this theory, the toxins must be diluted as they are released from the body tissues or they become concentrated -- and you end up not feeling well. Hence, the advice to drink (gasp) three of four quarts of water daily if you are taking essiac.

According to Chris Corpening R.N. (A Nurse's Herbal Tea),
"Diarrhea has been the #1 side effect I have seen, although it is not a common side effect. Gastrointestinal discomfort has also been reported to me on various occasions. According to herbal literature, turkey rhubarb is a laxative and if the body can not handle it, diarrhea will result. GI discomfort could also be related to the rhubarb, but I don't have any studies to back this up. I have had colitis that has been resolved with this tea and I know of many with other serious gastrointestinal disorders expressing relief after taking this tea over a period of time. My advice to those experiencing diarrhea or discomfort is to cut the dosage down to 1oz a day (or stop entirely) until the problems resolve, then gradually get yourself back to taking the original amount."

Standard advice is that you should not take essiac if you are pregnant or nursing because any possible effects are simply not known or have ever been researched -- better to be safe than sorry. If you have kidney disease or are prone to kidney stones, some sources advise not taking essiac because of oxalic acid in sheep sorrel and turkey rhubarb. Chris Corpening's comment about this, "I have also researched this. According to herbal literature, one would have to injest HUGE amounts of sheep sorrel in order to have some impact on the kidneys, so the advice is bogus."

However, Chris totally agrees with this statement, have witnessed the phenomenon.

    "Diabetics who are insulin dependant may need to adjust their dosage, also those on anti-diabetes medications. All diabetics should monitor their blood sugar closely while on this tea. Some of the constituents in this tea can affect the way glucose and insulin are taken up in the cells and utilized. Many people find they need less medication while taking this tea. This is not always the case, but is worthy of mention.
    The herbal mix has demonstrated effects on blood sugar levels and cancer and should be used under the care of a healthcare professional familiar with its use.  Many have receivedeven greater benifit using Blood Root, an herb, with Essiac.

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DISCLAIMER:  The information in this column, is NOT intended to diagnose and/or treat any health related issues and is provided solely for informational purposes only. Consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making any changes to your healthcare regime. Even what may seem like simple changes in the diet for example, can interact with, and alter, the efficiency of medications and/or the body's response to the medications. Many herbs and supplements exert powerful medicinal effects. Neither the author, nor the website designers, assume any responsibility for the reader's use or misuse of this information.

© 2002 Nature's Corner