Burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm bark and Indian/turkey rhubarb root are four herbs that make up an herbal formula called Essiac which is available as a powder, liquid or in capsules.  This formula was introduced by the Canadian nurse Rene Caisse in 1922.  She reportedly obtained it from Native Americans. Rene used these herbs to successfully treat cancer and other health problems for nearly 60 years.  Another formula called Flor-Essence also contains these four herbs along with the additional herbs kelp, blessed thistle, red clover and watercress. Some believe Rene added these additional herbs to the original formula as time went on.  For the purpose of this article, I will only discuss the four herbs in the original Essiac formula. 

       Both the Essiac and Flor-Essence formulas have been shown to enhance immunity and detoxify the body.  Below is an overview of what is known about burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm bark and Indian/turkey rhubarb root as to their usefulness in promoting health. 

       Burdock root has been traditionally use as a blood purifier by facilitating a diuretic effect in the body which generates the filtering out of impurities from the blood.  Burdock root has been shown to remove congestion in the respiratory tract, facilitate better lymphatic flow and promote improved function of the urinary and circulatory systems.  This herb has also been reported to be effective in destroying bacteria and fungus.   Burdock root has been shown to bind to toxins and deliver them to the liver and kidneys for removal from the body.

       In a number of studies where animals were exposed to toxic chemicals, burdock root was shown to be effective in removing such toxins and reducing liver damage associated with such toxins. It appears to do this by increasing the secretion of bile from the liver. Studies show burdock root acts as an anti-inflammatory in the body.

       Burdock root contains a chemical called arctigenin which has been shown to inhibit tumor growth.  In an August 15, 2012 article published in Biochemical Pharmacology it was reported that arctigenin elevated cellular levels of reactive molecules containing oxygen which blocked cellular energy metabolism in glucose-starved tumor cells.  Some believe the presence of arctigenin in Rene Caisse’ formula was one of the reasons she had such success in treating cancer.

       Sheep sorrel contains a variety of nutrients such as flavonoids that provide antioxidant activity. Sheep sorrel has been shown to be anti-inflammation and helpful in reducing mucus in the body, especially in association with sinusitis. Sorrel’s action in reducing mucus appears to come from polyphenols called tannins found in this herb.  Tannins are strongly astringent in that they remove excess water from between cells and thus remove cellular wastes in a timely manner. It has been purposed that this astringent activity can also prevent cancer cells from accumulating various chemicals which allow them to grow.

       Rene Caisse believed sheep sorrel was the most active cancer fighter among all the herbs present in her formula.  This view was shared by Dr. Chester Stock at Sloan-Kettering in New York who studied sheep sorrel for over three years back in the 1970’s. Dr. Stock concluded that sheep sorrel destroyed cancer cells and inhibited metastasis.  A published 2012 study in Hungry showed that Sheep Sorrel demonstrated a 50% inhibition of cell proliferation of several cancerous cell lines.

       Slippery Elm Bark contains mucilage which is a substance that forms a gel when mixed with water. When used as a tea, it is very soothing to the throat and is often used to lessen the symptoms of a sore throat.  It is also used to coat the intestinal tract to relieve symptoms associated with heartburn.   Slippery elm bark stimulates a reflux action of nerve endings in the intestinal tract that increases mucus secretion. This increase in mucus production can be helpful in protecting the intestinal tract from ulcers. 

       Indian Rhubarb/Turkey Rhubarb Root has been shown to act as a gentle laxative and as a detoxifying agent.  A substance called rhein in the roots of this herb appears to inhibit the activity of certain bacteria.  In the 1980’s a study demonstrated that these rhubarb roots have anti-tumor effects.  It is apparent that Rene Caisse initially used Indian Rhubarb Root in her Essiac formula but in later years used Turkey Rhubarb Root as well.  Medicinally, both these species of rhubarb appear to have the same qualities.  It must be noted that the species of rhubarb commonly grown in the family garden does not have the medicinally qualities found in Indian or Turkey Rhubarb Root. The Essiac formula uses Indian Rhubarb Root while the Flor-Essence formula uses Turkey Rhubarb Root.   

Essiac and cancer:

       Over the years the Essiac formula has been touted as a cancer cure by various health professionals and by multiple hundreds of people who believe it worked for them in eliminating their cancer.  In my research on the Essiac formula, I did not find any clinical trials showing the usefulness of this formula in the treatment of cancer.  Neither did I find any double blind studies testing the efficacy of this formula. 

       Clinical trials and double blind studies are the preferred method for determining the usefulness of a particular protocol in dealing with a health problem.  However, it must be understood that while such trials and studies can confirm the efficacy of a particular protocol, this doesn’t mean that a protocol not backed up by such trials and studies isn’t viable.  Antidotal evidence for the efficacy of a protocol should not be overlooked. If a substantial number of people claim a certain product or protocol benefitted them in their fight against cancer or some other health problem, it may be short sighted to ignore such testimony.                 

       When deciding how to deal with cancer or any other health issue, it is best to consider all available protocols.  While the primary conventional approach to dealing with cancer is surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, there are a number of alternative/complimentary treatments that have produced good results.  For an overview of many of these alternative treatments, an excellent book to read is “Outsmart your cancer, Alternative Non-Toxic Treatments That Work.”  This book is available at Milk ‘N Honey.  Also available at Milk ‘N Honey is Essiac and Flor-Essence.