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.’