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Why Essiac Was Suppressed as a Potential Cancer Treatment

Updated on November 18, 2015

The Herbs Once Used to Treat Cancer

Burdock root is a long-known Native American cancer fighter.
Burdock root is a long-known Native American cancer fighter. | Source
Sheep sorrel is also believed to fight tumors.
Sheep sorrel is also believed to fight tumors. | Source
Slippery elm is one of the four herbs in Essiac.
Slippery elm is one of the four herbs in Essiac. | Source
Indian rhubarb is said to aid in detoxifying the liver.
Indian rhubarb is said to aid in detoxifying the liver. | Source

Nurse Caisse had Great Success with Essiac

Is it possible that a safe, effective treatment for cancer was discovered in the 1920s, and then suppressed?

If anyone has followed the story of Rene Caisse, it's hard to believe otherwise.

This brave Canadian nurse bucked the medical establishment and saved the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of terminally ill patients.

Caisse, born in 1888, was head nurse in a Catholic hospital in the Province of Ontario. It was there that she met an unusual and unforgettable patient, an elderly woman with a badly scarred right breast.

Many years earlier, this patient told Caisse, she had advanced breast cancer. Short of money, and not thrilled with the idea of surgery, the woman took an herbal concoction made by an Ojibway medicine man. Her tumor disappeared, and she lived cancer free for many years.

Caisse was intrigued. Somehow, she obtained this formula. It is not clear if her patient remembered the specific combination of herbs, or if Caisse had to track down the medicine man.

As with many details surrounding the story of Rene Caisse and her formula, much is lost to history. Through the years, conflicting interests also make it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

During her lifetime, Caisse faced enormous pressure from medical authorities to stop dispensing these herbs. She eventually had to stop, and, for several decades, this treatment for cancer was all but forgotten, despite the countless testimonies to its effectiveness.

Caisse had the herbal recipe in hand years before using it on her first patient. That was her aunt, diagnosed with inoperable stomach cancer. The herbs worked so well that Caisse used them five years later on her 72-year-old mother, also stricken with terminal cancer. Her mother lived another 18 years before dying of heart failure.

Meeting with Much Resistance

Nurse Caisse worked with physicians and she received support from a number of respected doctors and researchers in the United States and Canada. She also won the favor of Bracebridge, Ontario town fathers, who, in 1935, agreed to let her operate a clinic in an old hotel. She rented this space from the town for $1 a month.

It was here that she saw between 300-600 people a week. She only treated patients who had a doctor's diagnosis of cancer. Many of them were very weak by the time they reached her clinic, after having undergone surgery and radiation. Some arrived by ambulance. Caisse typically had good results if a patient's heart, liver, kidneys and other major organs still worked.

You would think everyone would be thrilled that cancer patients could have access to a formula that was very inexpensive, widely available and didn't have devastating side effects such as nausea or hair loss. But Caisse was greatly pressured by medical authorities to stop her work.

Public sentiment, however, was greatly in support of Caisse. In 1938, a petition with thousands of signatures resulted in a bill before the Ontario legislature, seeking legal recognition for Caisse to continue. Only three votes prevented Essiac from becoming and approved and accepted cancer treatment, at least in Canada.

Caisse closed the clinic in 1941, as the pressure was causing a great deal of distress. Recently married, to a local attorney, she retired from nursing and spent her time painting.

A devout Catholic, Caisse wanted the herbs available for all, and she only accepted donations, rather than payments. She also refused financially lucrative offers to disclose the formula, out of fear it would be kept out of the public domain. At one point she was offered $1 million, but held firm.

The year before she died, Caisse granted rights to the Respirin Corporation, a Canadian firm that now manufactures Essiac, the letters of Caisse's maiden name spelled backwards. Respirin is now known as Essiac Canada International. The products it sells display a photograph of Caisse, as well as her signature.

The Low Cost of Essiac Ingredients

Essiac is made from plants that grow abundantly in North America.
Essiac is made from plants that grow abundantly in North America. | Source

Renewed Interest in Essiac

Today, decades after death, there's a renewed interest in Caisse's work and in her herbal blend. There's also a great deal of confusion, as well as contradictory information on the Internet.

Several companies now claim to sell the original formula. There are a myriad of Essiac-like products sold in health food stores and online.

Whether or not they perform the same as the original formula is anyone's guess because there are no standardized tests. Many of the other brands are less expensive than Essiac.

Essiac, and its competition, comes in dry packets that allow people to mix their own tea, as well as in tinctures and gel caps. Some firms selling similar products also offer packages of bulk herbs.

Which Herbs Did Caisse Use to Treat Cancer?

Packaging and selling these Native American blends must be extremely profitable, because so many companies have entered the marketplace.

There is now dispute over which herbs Caisse used, and at what times. According to the Essiac corporate website, the original Essiac consists of sheep sorrel, burdock root, slippery elm bark (inner bark) and Indian rhubarb.

Some competitors say Caisse initially received an eight-herb recipe from the Ojibway medicine man, but then reduced the formula to the four she found were most effective.

Some other brands sell products with eight herbs, with the addition of other ingredients such as red clover, blessed thistle, watercress and kelp.

One supplier claims preparations sold with just sheep sorrel leaves are ineffective, and that Caisse used sorrel root to treat patients. This company sells a preparation with sheep sorrel roots.

It's also claimed that Caisse injected patients with sheep sorrel in addition to the oral administration of herbs. Some say patients drank a blend of three herbs, and then had injections of the sheep sorrel.

The original Essiac, according to published accounts, was meticulously prepared by Caisse, and there is a video segment that shows her cooking dried herbs in a large pan on a stove top.

Continued Consumer Confusion

Anyone doing an internet search on Essiac will be barraged with multiple websites and numerous claims. Unfortunately, it's up to the consumer to sort through the claims and testimonials. Testimonials on the supposed healing powers of Essiac and its competitors abound on the Internet.

It's very sad to realize consumers, most likely desperate cancer patients, must wade through this morass of confusing information.

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products are not meant to diagnose‚ treat or cure any disease or medical condition.

This article is only written as a historical account of Rene Caisse and Essiac. It is not intended as a treatment recommendation. People with health concerns should discuss them with a physician. The author claims no responsibility for treatment decisions or outcomes. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not take herbal remedies unless directed to do so by a healthcare professional.


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The Story of Rene Caisse and Essiac

Do You Know About Essiac Tea?

Submit a Comment
  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from USA

    Hi Joe,

    Thank you for your kind words. There is controversy surrounding it, unfortunately, and I think that's because of all the competing interests. Thank you again for reading.


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