Essiac, a harmless herbal tea, was used by Canadian nurse Rene Caisse to treat thousands of cancer patients from the 1920s until her death in 1978 at the age of ninety. Refusing payment for her services, instead accepting only voluntary contributions, the Bracebridge, Ontario, nurse brought remissions to hundreds of documented cases, many abandoned as "hopeless" or "terminal" by orthodox medicine. She aided countless more in prolonging life and relieving pain. Caisse obtained remarkable results against a wide variety of cancers, treating persons by administering Essiac through hypodermic injection or oral ingestion.
The formula for the herbal remedy was given to Caisse in 1922 by a hospital patient whose Breast Cancer had been healed by an Ontario Indian medicine man. Essiac came within just three votes of being legalized by the Canadian parliament in 1938. Over the years, many prominent physicians voiced their support for the efficacy of Caisse's medicine. For example, Dr. Charles Brusch-a founder of the prestigious Brusch Medical Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a former physician to President John F. Kennedy-declared that "Essiac has merit in the treatment of cancer" and revealed that he cured his own cancer with it. In a notarized statement made on April 6, 1990, Dr. Brusch testified, "I endorse this therapy even today for I have in fact cured my own cancer, the original site of which was the lower bowels, through Essiac alone."
The principal herbs in Essiac include burdock root, turkey rhubarb root (Indian rhubarb), sheep sorrel, and slippery elm bark. Burdock root, a key active ingredient, is also a major ingredient of the Hoxsey herbal remedy. As discussed in the chapter on the Hoxsey therapy, two Hungarian scientists in 1966 reported "considerable antitumor activity. in a purified fraction of burdock.1
In addition, Japanese scientists at Nagoya University in 1984 discovered burdock contains a new type of desmutagen, a substance uniquely capable of reducing cell mutation either in the absence or in the presence of metabolic activation. So important is this property, the Japanese researchers named it the B-factor, for "burdock factor."2 Another herb in Essiac, turkey rhubarb root, was demonstrated to have antitumor activity in the sarcoma-37 animal test system.
Herbalists believe that the synergistic interaction of herbal ingredients contributes to their therapeutic effects. They point out that laboratory tests on a single, isolated compound from one herbal formula fail to address this synergistic potency.