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Essiac is an herbal preparation believed, in complementary and alternative medicine, to be a treatment for cancer. Its name derives from the backwards spelling of the surname of Rene M. Caisse, RN, a Canadian nurse (1888-1978) who was its greatest advocate. She said it was based on Native American healing, specifically from the Canadian Ojibways, and first described it in the 1920s. Caisse kept her exact ingredients and preparation secret, although it has been sold to a Canadian company that claims to provide the original formumation.

While formulas vary, the ingredients most often cited, some of which known to contain biologically active substances, are:

Traditional herbal preparations of these individual plants do not often seem to have enough of the active components to have clinical value. One of the great questions with regard to Essiac, or the related FlorEssence, is if either the combinations raise the total quantity of active components, or if there are synergies among the different plant extracts.

Some preparations include additional ingredients, such as:

Clinical experience

There is anecdotal evidence for efficacy, but Caisse was hostile to randomized controlled trials, admittedly of a period in which they were much less refined. In the 1970s, a study was done, but not published, at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital; informal reports say some findings showed no activity and others showed significant activity. [1]

A 2009 review showed a lack of high-quality trials.[2]

In vitro analysis

Essiac and FlorEssence, a related tea, has shown activity in some small trials and none in others; both had inhibitory action, in vitro, on breast cancer but not leukemia. [3]

In studies at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2007,

Essiac exhibited significant antioxidant activity in the ABTS assay (of antioxidant activity). A 20-fold dilution of Essiac also exhibited significant immunomodulatory effects, specifically through stimulation of granulocyte phagocytosis, increases in CD8+ cell activation, and moderately inhibiting inflammatory pathways. Essiac exhibited significant cell-specific cytotoxicity towards ovarian epithelial carcinoma cells (A2780). Importantly, a 20-fold dilution of Essiac showed significant inhibition of several cytochrome CYP450 enzymes, most notably CYP1A2 (37%) and CYP2C19 (24%). Essiac demonstrated dose-dependent inhibition of clot fibrinolysis. CONCLUSION: In vitro analysis of Essiac indicates significant antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties, as well as neoplastic cell specific cytotoxicity consistent with the historical properties ascribed to this compound. Importantly, significant CYP450 and fibrinolysis inhibition were also observed. [4]

Another study, using electron spin resonance, showed

the effects of Essiac on free radical scavenging and DNA damage in a non-cellular system, as well as the effects Essiac on lipid peroxidation using the RAW 264.7 cell line. We observed, using electron spin resonance, "that Essiac effectively scavenged hydroxyl, up to 84% reduction in radical signal at the 50% tea preparation concentration, and superoxide radicals, up to 82% reduction in radical signal also at the 50% tea preparation concentration, as well as prevented hydroxyl radical-induced DNA damage. In addition, Essiac inhibited hydroxyl radical-induced lipid peroxidation by up to 50% at the 50% tea preparation concentration. These data indicate that Essiac tea possesses potent antioxidant and DNA-protective activity. [5]

Animal research

"Essiac demonstrated a modest gastric protective effect via reduction of ethanol-induced gastric ulceration. However, Essiac did not demonstrate significant hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic or immunomodulatory properties."[6] Experiments with burdock alone, however, showed hepatic protection. [7]


  1. Essiac, Medline Plus
  2. Ulbricht C; Weissner W; Hashmi S; Rae Abrams T; Dacey C; Giese N; Hammerness P; Hackman DA; Kim J; Nealon A; Voloshin R (2009), "(abstract) Essiac: systematic review by the natural standard research collaboration.", J Soc Integr Oncol 7 (2): 73-80 (ISSN: 1715-894X)
  3. Tai J, Cheung S, Wong S, Lowe C (February 2004), "(Abstract) In vitro comparison of Essiac and Flor-Essence on human tumor cell lines.", Oncol Rep 11 (2): 471-6
  4. Seely D; Kennedy DA; Myers SP; Cheras PA; Lin D; Li R; Cattley T; Brent PA; Mills E; Leonard BJ (2007), "(abstract) In vitro analysis of the herbal compound Essiac", Anticancer Res 27 (6B): 3875-82
  5. Leonard SS, Keil D, Mehlman T, Proper S, Shi X, Harris GK. (epub 2005), "(Abstract) Essiac tea: scavenging of reactive oxygen species and effects on DNA damage.", J Ethnopharmacol 103 (2)
  6. Leonard BJ; Kennedy DA; Cheng FC; Chang KK; Seely D; Mills E (2006), "(abstract) An in vivo analysis of the herbal compound essiac.", Anticancer Res 26 (4B): 3057-63
  7. Lin SC; Lin CH; Lin CC; Lin YH; Chen CF; Chen IC; Wang LY (2002), "(Abstract) Hepatoprotective effects of Arctium lappa Linne on liver injuries induced by chronic ethanol consumption and potentiated by carbon tetrachloride.", J Biomed Sci 9 (5): 401-9