From The Cancer Chronicles #18
©1993 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.

It is sometimes claimed that alternative treatments are a cruel rip-off that further impoverishes desperate cancer patients. But what about Essiac (TM), a Native American remedy popularized by the late Canadian nurse, Rene Caisse (1889-1978)? While Essiac-type formulas are available at a reasonable cost in many health food stores, the brew is potentially even less expensive, since it is derived from weeds found in many backyards.

Essiac's use is growing in both the U.S. and Canada, where it is legal, but only for terminal cancer patients. Because of its underground popularity, some entrepreneurs have tried to cash in. Companies have come out with competing formulas to trademarked Essiac, some with deceptively similar names or claims to authenticity. Some patients complain about the confusion.

Canadian author Sheila Snow has been studying the question for 20 years. In a 1993 book*, she writes that "certain groups and individuals have been flooding the Canadian market with products reputed to be made from [the] original recipe." Naturally, "each distributor denies the authenticity of other competitor concoctions."

Yet, according to Snow, there is one way to increase the chances of getting an authentic version of Essiac—make it yourself, either from wildcrafted herbs or from those purchased from respectable dealers.

All companies agree that four basic herbs are always present in this Native American formula; some of these have immune-modulating properties (see R. W. Moss's Cancer Therapy, pp. 146-148). According to Snow, the authentic Essiac decoction can be homemade from ingredients obtainable from any good herb store. The prices we cite below are from one such firm, chosen at random from the New York phone book: Aphrodisia (The total cost of these dry ingredients is $21.74).

According to Snow, these dried herbs can be used to create enough liquid brew for a daily one ounce dose for 18 to 24 months. In other words, homemade, this treatment costs about4 cents per day. No wonder, in the era of $150,000 bone marrow transplants, Essiac is becoming more popular.

Snow gives complete instructions for preparing the brew. One thoroughly mixes these dry ingredients in a bowl, then pours the dry mixture into a wide-mouth glass jar and shakes well. One mixes 1 1/2 quarts of distilled water to every ounce of the dry mixture and boils it up in a stainless steel, lidded pot. After boiling hard for 10 minutes, turn off the heat, says Snow, scrape down the sides of the pot, and stir well. The pot then sits for 10-12 hours. To preserve a supply, one must sterilize the implements and reheat the liquid until it is steaming hot, but not boiling. One strains the mixture and puts it in bottles. The caps of the bottle are tightened and then and set aside to cool. Once the bottles are opened, they should be refrigerated, but not frozen.

It is important to question the source and authenticity of the herbs. For example, there are over 100 species of "sorrel" but it is important to make sure one is getting real sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), and not some substitute, such as ordinary garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa).

The final product looks somewhat like apple cider or light honey and has a mild, earthy aroma and a flavor that some patients refer to as "punk"—a little like dry, decayed wood. To use, Snow says one should:

  • Shake the bottle gently to mix any settled sediment.
  • Take 1 oz. of the decoction in 2 oz. of hot water on an empty stomach, 2 to 3 hours after supper each night.
  • Refrain from food or drink for 1 hour after taking it.
  • Allow at least 3 hrs. to elapse between using Essiac and any prescription drug or treatment.

    Some patients complain of nausea and/or indigestion after taking Essiac, says Snow. This may be because they take it on a full stomach. Large doses of burdock root tea have also been found toxic in certain cases. For more information, see the article on Essiac in Cancer Therapy as well as Snow.


  • 13 (measuring cup) ozs. burdock root (Arctium lappa), cut into small pieces; $1.00 per oz.
  • 4 oz. (scale weight) powdered sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) herb; $1.75 per oz.
  • 1 oz. (scale weight) powdered slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) inner bark; $1.40 per oz.
  • 1/4 oz. (scale weight) Turkey rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) root. $1.35 per oz. (Powder before use.)

    Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. is director of the The Moss Reports for cancer patients. Dr. Moss is the author of eleven books and three documentaries on cancer-related topics. He is or has been an advisor on alternative cancer treatments to the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the American Urological Association, Columbia University, the University of Texas, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the German Society of Oncology. He wrote the first article on alternative medicine for the Encyclopedia Britannica yearbook. He is listed in Marquis Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in the East, and Who's Who in Entertainment (as a film documentarian). This Web site does not advocate any particular treatment for cancer. We urge you to always seek competent medical advice for all health problems, especially cancer. Before consulting our site please read our full Disclaimer statement.

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