Essiac was developed in the late 1920s by Rene Caisse, a Canadian nurse, and now, in the 21st century has an international reputation being recommended by complementary and medical practitioners, cancer centres and hospices world-wide.
The Essiac formula nurse Rene Caisse gave to the Resperin Corporation is so simple and natural it deserves the grace of Edna St. Vincent Millay's magical lines: "And all the loveliest things there be / Come simply, so it seems to me."
In a recent interview Oscar Janiger, M.D., arguing for the use and more research of alternative methods of healing, noted that the Earth provides abundant resources for aiding the body in the healing processes, and people are awakening to the natural resources, such as the herbs in the Essiac formula, that supplement our efforts to prevent illness or cure disease.
The basic Indian formula of Essiac consists of four herbs: burdock root (Arctium lappa), Turkey rhubarb (Rheum palmatum), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), and slippery elm (Ulmus fulva).
Burdock root has been used for centuries. Eaten as spring greens, it stimulates production of bile and helps liver function. As a first-year root, dug in autumn, it is used as a blood purifier. It is renowned for reducing the pain and swelling of arthritis. An extract of the root contains insulin, which the body converts to insulin, helpful to diabetics. Burdock root has many other qualities, but perhaps the most germane is its reputation for tumor regression, for which it has long been used in macrobiotic diets.
Turkey rhubarb, used as stems, now finds its way into pudding and pies. The root stock is both laxative and astringent, depending on the dose. It is effective for diarrhea and known to work in removing debris from and cleansing the bowels. In Chinese medicine, it is used to treat chronic liver problems. Liver toxicity is often found in cancer patients.
has been used to treat scurvy, to strengthen the heart, and to cool the liver. The fresh leaves contain a number of acids, which makes them a delicacy in fresh salads. Sheep sorrel is respected as a diuretic and as a treatment for blood disorders, as well as assisting with skin problems. A decoction can be used internally or externally. Also, nurse Rene Caisse, in her fifty years of working with cancer patients, observed it to be effective in breaking down tumors.
The inner bark of slippery elm
is used to heal wounds and is known for the blanketing effect it has on the mucous membranes of the digestive system. It is soothing for soar throats, and coats the intestinal tract, producing speculation that its role in the Essiac formula is to protect the body when toxins are released. It is nutritive as well - in fact, each of these four herbs are rich in vitamins and minerals - and was used by the Native Americans for food when none other was available.
Despite the beneficial qualities of these herbs individually, herbalists assert that the yet-to-be-determined synergistic combination of the herbs in a brew seems to be what gives the Formula its potency.