Indigenous people were some of the first users of herbal teas for boosting health and well-being. Such is the case for essiac tea, which was used by the indigenous people of Canada. It wasn’t until 1922 that essiac tea became known because of a female nurse from Ontario named Rene Caisse who reportedly obtained the tea’s recipe from a medicine man.
Essiac, which is Caisse spelled backwards, was then administered to the nurse's cancer patients, some of which yielded promising results.1 Because of this "breakthrough," essiac tea was promoted for mainstream use to the rest of North America. However, there was pushback from the medical authorities, and up to now, it remains an unregulated treatment.2
Keep reading this article if you're curious about essiac tea's health benefits. You'll also discover how you can make your own essiac tea at home and the various side effects that may occur.
What Is Essiac Tea?
Essiac tea is an herbal remedy that originated from Canada. There are four herbs, which must be organic, that are typically used to make essiac tea: burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm and Turkish rhubarb root.
Essiac can be bought as a powder or as a liquid that can be mixed with water. You can also purchase essiac tea bags from stores or websites. Essiac manufacturers say that you can take essiac tea for a period of one to two years.3 When drinking essiac tea, dosages must be tailored carefully for your condition, because excessive amounts of essiac tea can cause negative side effects.
Essiac Tea’s Health Benefits
Numerous benefits have been linked to essiac tea:4
• Antioxidant: The herbs used to make essiac tea contain antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, tannins and selenium that can reduce free radical activity and detoxify the body.
A 2007 article in the International Journal of Cancer Research highlighted that essiac tea supposedly contains greater antioxidant activity compared to red wine, green and black tea, and cocoa. These antioxidant effects may be linked to prevention of cardiovascular disease, lower risk of age-related eye disease, promotion of better brain health and general health maintenance.5
• Immunostimulant: Research has showed that when exposed to essiac tea, the activity of several immune system cells significantly increased, although there was no direct bacterial killing observed in the study.6
• Anti-inflammatory: Essiac tea can help treat pain and swelling associated with general inflammation (commonly associated with arthritis and other respiratory tract infections), HIV/AIDS7 and other infections.
• Antibacterial (albeit moderate): Essiac tea may combat bacteria strains. Burdock root has been linked to both antibacterial and fungistatic activity,8 while also preventing the release of pro-inflammatory molecules.9
• Expectorant: Two herbs in essiac tea (slippery elm and rhubarb root) are known to help soothe respiratory infections and cut through phlegm and mucus. The herbs' expectorant properties may assist with speeding up healing and reducing inflammation in the respiratory tract. In some cases, essiac tea was found to help:
Prevent tumor growth
Reduce cellular mutation
Soothe pulmonary conditions
Promote digestive efficiency and eliminate symptoms of constipation and bloating
Speed up the digestive process and eliminate harmful bacteria that reside in the gut (mostly attributed to sheep sorrel)
Improve metabolic function and stimulate passive fat burning
Promote weight loss
Essiac tea is also known for its potential in addressing cancer, since the herbs used in this drink can contribute to its cancer-fighting abilities:
• Sheep sorrel: This is an antioxidant-rich herb. Studies on sheep sorrel have discovered that it has anti-proliferative effects against cancerous cells, meaning it can prevent the replication and metastasis of cancerous growths.
• Burdock root: Burdock root contains anthraquinone, a chemical that may help slow down tumor growth and inhibit possible cancer-causing cellular mutation. Meanwhile, other studies discovered that burdock root extract has apoptotic effects on cancerous cells, allowing it to stimulate cell death in malignant cells.
• Indian rhubarb root: Its anti-inflammatory properties may help protect pulmonary function among people suffering from or are at risk for lung cancer, or those undergoing radiation therapy for certain cancers.
• Slippery elm: The plant sterols, tannins and essential fatty acids in slippery elm may aid in reducing inflammation, while mucilage and calcium oxilate may help detoxify the body. When combined with the other components of essiac tea, slippery elm is able to protect the organs from the effects of mainstream cancer treatments while simultaneously supporting the immune system.
This drink can also act as a supportive remedy if the cancer has already progressed, as some nutrients in essiac tea may synergistically attack the cancer cells and enhance the body’s defenses.
While research that have been conducted regarding essiac tea’s capabilities against cancer yielded positive effects, particularly against tumor growth, cancer cell reproduction, oxidative stress and tissue inflammation, modern medical practitioners hesitate to call essiac tea a “cure” for cancer.10
Nutrition Facts of Essiac Tea
There isn’t sufficient information regarding the nutrition content of freshly brewed essiac tea. However, a cup of Mountain Rose Herbs’ Essiac Tea gives us an idea of this tea’s nutritional content:11
|Amt. Per |
|% Daily |
|Calories from Fat||0|
|Total Fat||0 g||0%|
|Saturated Fat||0 g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrates||0 g||0%|
|Dietary Fiber||0 g||0%|
|Vitamin A 0%||Vitamin C||0%|
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Caffeine Content in Essiac Tea
Unlike other types of teas, essiac tea doesn’t contain traces of caffeine.12
How to Make Essiac Tea Using the Traditional Recipe
An interesting fact about essiac tea’s recipe is that it was kept secret for many years by Caisse, until it was written down and sworn in to an affidavit by her long-time assistant.13 As such, the traditional essiac tea recipe uses this amount of herbs, which are based from a word-for-word transcription of the mentioned affidavit:14
• 6 1/2 cups of cut Burdock root
• 1 pound of powdered sheep sorrel
• 1/4 pound of powdered slippery elm bark
• 1 ounce of powdered Turkish rhubarb root
When using fresh herbs, make sure that they are all certified organic. Sheep sorrel is the most important herb. Buy sheep sorrel that’s been harvested in the late spring (May to mid-June) before its flowers open.15
For burdock root, chop it while it’s fresh, because once it dries, it can be hard and quite difficult to chop.16 The inner bark of the slippery elm is best bought powdered.17 Lastly, rhubarb root can be bought in small pieces18 or powdered form.19 Aside from these herbs, you'll also need these tools to make essiac tea:
Stainless steel pot with a well-fitting lid that can hold 2 to 3 gallons of water without boiling over
Glass measuring cup
Stainless steel cooking spoon
Stainless steel sieve or strainer
Stainless steel funnel
Bottles or mason jars with lids (enough to hold about 1.4 liters of tea)
Avoid using pots made of aluminum and copper, and are coated with Teflon, because the tea can react with these materials. It’s best to keep one pan that you specifically use for making essiac tea.
If you have to use different pots each type you make essiac tea, scrub and sterilize them by filling with warm water and boiling with the lid on for 10 minutes. Afterwards, pour out the water before making tea. Now that you have your herbs and materials ready, you can make essiac tea by following these steps:
1. Put high-quality filtered water into a sterilized pot and cover.
2. Bring water to a hard boil for about 30 minutes, and then add your herbs or a pre-mixed essiac blend.
3. Stir and continue boiling the mixture, covered, for 10 minutes.
4. Remove from heat. Allow the tea to sit covered and cool the mixture slowly for six hours.
5. After six hours, scrape down the sides of a pot with a sterilized spoon and stir thoroughly.
6. Let it sit covered for another six hours.
7. Return the container to stove and turn to the highest setting. Heat the tea to almost boiling, usually around 20 minutes, but do not boil it.
8. Pour the tea through a strainer or sieve into a second pot. A lot of sediment may remain in the tea.
9. Clean the first container thoroughly and strain the tea back into the first pot.
10. Using the funnel, pour the tea into the jars and seal the lids while hot. Use another clean spoon to stir the tea occasionally to prevent the sediment from being suspended into the tea.
11. Store the jars in the refrigerator in brown bags or boxes to keep out the light.
If mold develops on top of the sediment in the bottle, discard the tea in that jar.20
How to Store Essiac Tea
Keep the herbs used for making essiac tea in a cool and dark place. Unopened packets of fresh herbs may stay fresh for at least one year. Avoid storing herbs in the refrigerator.21
Brewed essiac tea must be refrigerated because it doesn’t contain additives or preservatives. The tea mustn’t be stored for more than two weeks, because it may spoil and/or its efficacy may be lessened. Store the tea in pitchers or glass bottles. Dark bottles aren’t necessary since the refrigerator is already dark inside, so exposure to light is negligible. Clean the containers you’ll store tea in with hot water and soap thoroughly before using.22
Essiac tea may be best when stored in an open pitcher so it’s easier to stir. Some sediment may be left at the bottom of the pitcher due to the herbs. Use a wooden spoon to stir the sediment, because this does a better job dispersing the herbs and preventing a huge clump from forming at the bottom. Lastly, avoid freezing and microwaving essiac tea, and ensure that your utensils have been sterilized before making this drink.
Essiac Tea’s Side Effects
Before drinking essiac tea, consult your doctor for advice, because this drink has been connected to numerous side effects. People consuming essiac tea are recommended to drink 3 to 4 quarts of high-quality filtered water daily. Essiac tea has detoxification properties that may prompt release of toxins from tissues and blood, excreting these through the intestinal and urinary tracts.
These toxins must be diluted once they’re released from the body tissues. If not, they may become concentrated, cause stress on the kidneys and liver, and result in feelings of illness. Some people may be allergic to herbs used in making essiac tea. Itchiness, development of itchy rashes on the body, runny and itchy eyes, and an unaccountable case of hay fever with symptoms like sneezing and runny nose and eyes may manifest.
Out of these herbs, sheep sorrel is thought to be the main allergen. If you experience these effects, try cutting your dosage or stop taking the tea altogether.23 In some cases, burdock may trigger allergies because it shares chemical properties with daisies, ragweed and chrysanthemum. People allergic to the aforementioned plants may experience reactions too.24
Cases of diarrhea and constipation were also linked to essiac tea. This is because rhubarb, one of the primary ingredients in the drink, has stimulant laxative properties.
Meanwhile, The National Institutes of Health points out that oxalic acid in sorrel, slippery elm and rhubarb may trigger nausea and vomiting. The said acid may also trigger liver damage and cause jaundice, abdominal pain and pale stool, and may increase the risk for kidney stone development. Other kidney-related problems linked to essiac tea include kidney damage caused by drinking large doses.
Essiac tea may irritate the kidneys and stimulate urine production. Furthermore, tannins in essiac tea can also trigger permanent damage to the kidneys. Other side effects linked to essiac tea include headaches, joint inflammation and abdominal discomfort.25 To potentially help prevent side effects, here are some pointers to remember:
• Start by drinking a small dose of essiac tea to see how your body reacts.
• Drink essiac tea on an empty stomach,26 particularly in the morning and at least three hours before bedtime.
• Stick to a reasonable dose of essiac tea. Most of these adverse effects linked to essiac tea are caused by taking high amounts.
Essiac Tea: Not Your Ordinary Herbal Remedy
Although some people might be hesitant to try essiac tea because of the time and effort required to make it, you cannot disregard the potential impacts it can provide for your health. This tea's herbs deliver numerous nutrients and benefits, such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and even potential anticancer abilities.
While essiac tea's benefits seem too good to be true, there are side effects you must watch out for. Before savoring what it has to offer, make sure to talk to a doctor first to see if you are fit to consume this beverage and know how much of it you should be taking.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Essiac Tea
Q: What is essiac tea good for?
A: Essiac tea can benefit people in various ways. It contains antioxidant, immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory, expectorant and antibacterial capabilities, and may help inhibit tumor growth, decrease cellular mutation and boost metabolic function. Arguably, essiac tea is most known for its potential anticancer effects, although most modern medicinal practitioners are hesitant to label this drink as a "cure" for cancer.
Q: How do you drink essiac tea?
A: Ideally, essiac tea must be consumed on an empty stomach. As much as possible, avoid eating for at least two hours before drinking the tea and an hour after drinking the tea for best results.27
Q: Where can you buy essiac tea?
A: You can purchase essiac tea mixes in health stores in your area, or from health websites. Please make sure you’re buying essiac tea from a highly reputable source so you can reap the potential benefits this drink has to offer and avoid being scammed.