The History of Essiac Tea
Essiac tea is said to have been an ancient recipe made by the Ojibwe tribes of Native Americans who populate areas of Canada and the northern United States. It was referred to as the “Ojibwa Tea of Life.” A Canadian nurse, Rene Caisse, was the first to use it to help her patients who were recovering from various forms of cancer. Caisse began to see remarkable results with her patients and wanted to make this elixir available for widespread usage. In the 1920s she began working with Dr. Charles Brusch to formulate an herbal mixture similar to the original drink that could be studied in a laboratory setting.
Caisse and Dr. Brusch began promoting the use of Essiac tea as an effective and affordable alternative cancer treatment. This caught the attention of the mainstream medical industry that went about spreading rumors about health risks associated with consuming Essiac tea. Since its adoption and promotion by a Canadian nurse nearly 100 years ago, Essiac has become popularly used for several reported health benefits. The herbal mixture’s most widely publicized health-related use is as the cancer treatment, whether as adjunctive therapy to standard chemotherapy regimens or as comfort care for patients with terminal cases. The list of essiac tea benefits is long. In addition to its reported benefits in cancer, Essiac is also known for its usefulness in detoxification and immune system strengthening.
The original four-herb recipe contained:
- Burdock root (Rheum palmatum)
- Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
- Slippery elm bark (Ulmus fulva)
- Turkey rhubarb (Rheum pomatum)
Laboratory experiments have shown that these individual ingredients possess several important biochemical properties, such as antioxidant, immunostimulant, and anti-inflammatory effects.
When the Essiac mixture was originally formulated by a Canadian Ojibwa healer an unknown number of years ago, it was intended to purify the body and maintain the balance between body and spirit. In accordance with this, Essiac is frequently used for its antioxidant properties. An antioxidant is a substance that prevents the generation and actions of free radicals, which are harmful byproducts produced by the body during the breakdown of food for energy or when the body is exposed to environmental toxins, such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, or radiation.
Scavenging of free radicals by antioxidants is important because the chemical instability of free radicals leads to cellular damage, which can lead to cell death, or even worse, cell injury and DNA damage, which is then propagated through that mutated cell’s replications. This can lead to accelerated and abnormal growth, which are precursors to cancer. Well-known antioxidants include, but are definitely not limited to:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
All of these mentioned antioxidants and much more are found in the individual ingredients in Essiac.
Essiac Tea Enhances Immune Function
Conventional cancer treatments increase the body’s toxic load and they destroy the individual’s immune system. Essiac tea, on the other hand, has shown the ability to strengthen the immune system and improve its ability to respond to infection. It also helps the body to eliminate toxins and provides pain relief which is welcome to anyone suffering from a chronic disease. Some of the companies that make Essiac tea recommend that the tea should not be used in conjunction with conventional cancer treatments. This is based on the idea that the immune system gets so damaged through conventional treatments that Essiac is unable to resuscitate the body’s immune response.
Many others believe that all cancer patients or immunocompromised individuals will benefit from the use of Essiac tea due to its powerful immune supportive nutrients.8 Clinical data remains limited, however, due to lack of research-based funding for the elixir. The first comprehensive laboratory investigation of Essiac was published by Seely et al in the International Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment in 2007 and among the study’s findings was a statistically significant antioxidant effect. Researchers involved in this study used a commercially available kit for measuring antioxidant activity and found that Essiac has a several-times greater antioxidant activity than known antioxidants such as red wine, green tea, black tea, and cocoa. These antioxidant effects are likely related to Essiac’s reported usefulness in cancer, prevention of cardiovascular disease, decreasing the risk of age-related eye disease, promoting brain health, and general health maintenance.
Essiac strengthens the immune system. The advantage of Essiac tea is that it is not toxic or harmful. 5dl water and 2 teaspoonfuls of herb mix are boiled at low heat for 10 minutes. Let go for about 4 hours, then light boiling for 5 minutes with stirring. The bottom set can also be used. It can be stored in a refrigerator for 2 days.
Immune Strengthening Effects
The immune system acts as the body’s defense against infection but is also important in the recognition and prevention of the progression of cancer. Another well-promoted use of Essiac is an immunostimulant or immune system strengthener. Related to this effect on the immune system is Essiac’s reported anti-inflammatory effect. The research study previously mentioned also examined the immune-strengthening effects of Essiac. Researchers found a significant increase in the activity of several immune system cells when exposed to Essiac; however, there was no direct bacterial killing observed in this study. Interestingly, though, previous studies have shown that Essiac tincture (as opposed to Essiac tea) possesses weak to moderate antibacterial activity against several organisms important in human disease, including Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.
Specifically, burdock root has been shown to have antibacterial and fungistatic activity, while also inhibiting the release of pro-inflammatory molecules. Because of its immune strengthening effects, Essiac is commonly used for treating pain and swelling associated with generalized inflammation (such as that associated with arthritis and respiratory tract infections), HIV/AIDS, other infections, and cancer. Due to the unique properties of the individual herbs in Essiac, in addition to the enhanced properties when the herbs are mixed together in the correct concentrations, Essiac tea benefits the body in many ways, including notable antioxidant and immune strengthening properties, both of which are valuable in the therapy of a myriad of health conditions.