Essiac healthy family
Essiac tea is a cancer therapy that has been around for almost a century. While debate continues about its effectiveness, there’s no doubt that the formula has helped thousands of cancer patients. But where does Essiac come from and what is the source of its unusual name?

The origin of Essiac

It’s 1922 and Nurse Rene Caisse is working in a Canadian hospital. Here she meets an elderly patient who had survived breast cancer 30 years earlier. At that time, the woman was living in a remote northern Canadian mining camp with her husband. She was admitted to a hospital for breast cancer and told her breasts would have to be removed. Refusing surgery, she returned to the mining camp and spoke to an American Indian medicine man, who claimed he could cure her with a herbal preparation. He showed her which herbs to use, how to pick and culture them and how to prepare the tea. She followed his instructions and within several months was completely cured. The 30 years that followed, she said, were spent in good health.

Rene Caisse is intrigued by the woman’s tale. She has two relatives, one an aunt, who are suffering with cancer. She asks the elderly survivor if she would share the formula and method and, with the permission of her aunt’s doctor, she gives it to her ailing family members. Later, she was to say, ‘My aunt lived for 21 years after being given up by the medical profession. There was no recurrence of cancer.’ The other relative, her stepfather, also recovers his health.

And that’s how Essiac came to public attention. Caisse took the old indigenous formula, cultivated the herbs, brewed the tea and administered it to her patients as Essiac (Caisse backwards). She continued with so much success that in 1933 the nearby small town of Bracebridge allowed her to use a defunct hotel as a clinic, where she worked from 1934 to 1942. Hundreds of cancer patients were treated successfully.

Enter the critics…

However, despite operating her cancer clinic under the supervision and observation of a number of doctors, Rene Caisse and her treatment became the centre of controversy and she was harassed by the Canadian authorities. Based on what her overseeing doctors had witnessed, eight of them signed a petition addressed to the Department of National Health and Welfare at Ottawa, asking that Caisse be given facilities to do independent research on her discovery. Their petition read as follows:
‘We believe that the ‘Treatment for Cancer’ given by Nurse R.M. Caisse can do no harm and that it relieves pain, will reduce the enlargement and will prolong life in hopeless cases. To the best of our knowledge, she has not been given a case to treat until everything in medical and surgical science has been tried without effect and even then she was able to show remarkable beneficial results on those cases at that late stage.
‘To the best of our knowledge she has treated all cases free of any charge and has been carrying on this work over the past two years.’

Essiac - nurse Rene Caisse with petition

Nurse Rene Caisse (pronounced reen case) with petition.

Due to this support, Nurse Caisse was permitted to treat cancer patients, but she was obligated to follow these strict conditions:

  • she could treat only terminally ill patients
  • she was obliged to use the services of an established medical doctor for prognosis and diagnosis
  • she could not accept any fees for her services

Caisse is said to have stated, ‘I never dreamed of the opposition and the persecution that would be my lot in trying to help suffering humanity with no thought of personal gain.’

The fall and rise of Essiac

After Caisse retired, Essiac slipped into obscurity, and it was only in the late 1970s that California chiropractor Dr Gary Glum, who specialised in treating world-class athletes, started a search for the recipe. He eventually came upon a woman in Detroit whose diagnosis of incurable cervical cancer was overturned when she took Essiac. She had the original formula, and Glum bought it from her. The woman wished to remain anonymous, but the chiropractor confirmed the authenticity of the formula with Mary McPherson, a close personal friend and assistant to Nurse Caisse.

Glum went on to treat a number of ‘incurable’ AIDS patients with Essiac, with permission. He says, ‘The AIDS Project Los Angeles had sent … 179 patients home to die. They all had pneumocystis carinii and histoplasmosis. Their weight was down to about 100 pounds. Their T-4 cell counts were less than 10.’

‘The Project gave me five of these patients,’ he continues. ‘I took them off AZT and the DDI and put them on Essiac three times a day. Those are the only ones alive today. The other 174 are dead.’ Surprisingly, Glum reveals, there has as yet been no government support for this remedy.

The Essiac formula

Essiac formula is now available worldwide. Its potent effectiveness is down to just four herbs that grow in the wilderness of Ontario: burdock, slippery elm, sheep sorrel and Indian rhubarb root. Herbalists theorise that the synergistic interaction between the herbs is the cause for the effectiveness of the formula. Not only is Essiac useful during cancer treatment; it also boosts the immune system and helps detoxify the body. People who drink Essiac tea regularly report feeling healthier and experiencing fewer colds and bouts of flu.

You can buy Essiac formula in powder or capsule form. (Flora Force is an excellent source of both versions; find them at Carcinoguard and Essiac Poweder)

The story of Rene Caisse and Essiac formula has been told by Gary Glum in his book Calling of an Angel. You’ll also find Caisse’s personal comments at Read the full story about the development of
Essiac and its effectiveness at and and an interview with Dr Gary Glum at…


Acknowledgements & Photo credits

Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.


  1. Health Freedom Info. The Truth About Essiac.
  2. The History of Essiac and Nurse Rene M. Caisse
  3. Kehr, W. Essiac: Nature’s Cure for Cancer. Cancer Tutor, 2014.


  1. Healthy family photo courtesy of photostock /
  2. Rene Caisse photo courtesy of