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 Ojibwa tribe of Canada. It wasn’t until 1922 that essiac tea became known, after a female nurse from Ontario named Rene Caisse reportedly obtained the recipe from the tribe.
Essiac, which is Caisse spelled backward,1 was then administered to the nurse's cancer patients, some of whom exhibited promising results. Because of this "breakthrough," essiac tea was promoted for mainstream use to the rest of North America. However, there was pushback from the medical establishment due to a lack of clinical drug trials, so, under U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, it remains an unregulated supplement.2
Keep reading this article if you're curious about essiac tea's health benefits and how you can make your own essiac tea at home. You’ll also learn about the risk of potential side effects.
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 Indian rhubarb root.
Essiac tea is available in powder form or as a liquid that can be mixed with water. Manufacturers say that you can take this tea for one to two years.3 When drinking essiac tea, dosages must be tailored carefully for your condition, because excessive amounts can cause negative side effects.
Essiac Tea’s Health Benefits
A 2007 article published in the journal Anticancer Research noted that essiac tea offered antioxidant, immunostimulant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. For starters, essiac tea appeared to have greater antioxidant activity compared to red wine, green and black tea, and cocoa. Researchers noted that it “exhibited significant immunomodulatory effects, specifically through stimulation of granulocyte phagocytosis, increases in CD8+ cell activation, and moderately inhibiting inflammatory pathways.”4
Essiac tea has also been noted for its potential in helping combat cancer because of the herbs in this drink, mainly:
- Sheep sorrel — According to the book “A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America,” this antioxidant-rich herb5 may assist with targeting cancer cells and lowering risk of cancer development.6
- Burdock root — Animal studies showed that burdock root has apoptotic effects on cancerous cells,7,8 and that a compound called benzaldehyde found in the root helped inhibit tumor prevention in animals.9
- Indian rhubarb root — It not only has anti-inflammatory properties,10 but its extract is said to have anticancer properties.11
- Slippery elm — This may aid in reducing inflammation,12 detoxifying the body,13 helping soothe respiratory infections and cutting through phlegm and mucus.14,15
Take note that while some studies on essiac tea have yielded positive results, modern medical practitioners remain skeptical about calling essiac tea a “cure” for cancer.16
Nutrition Facts of Essiac Tea
There isn’t sufficient information regarding the nutrition content of freshly brewed essiac tea without consulting nutrition databases of the individual herbs used to make the tea. Therefore the nutrition value will vary depending on the herbs used to make the tea, and how much of each herb is used.
Caffeine Content in Essiac Tea
Unlike other types of teas, essiac tea doesn’t caffeine, even in trace amounts.17
How to Make Essiac Tea Using the Traditional Recipe
An interesting fact about essiac tea is that the original formulation is still kept secret after being sold to a private company.18 Most researchers have debated on the amounts actually needed to make a batch of this tea, although the most common recommendations include:19
- 1.5 pounds burdock root
- 1 pound powdered sheep sorrel
- 1/4 pound slippery elm
- 1 pound rhubarb root (some recipes use Turkish rhubarb root)
When using fresh herbs, make sure that they are all certified organic. The website Essiac Facts provides some guidelines on selecting the best herbs for essiac tea:20
- Sheep sorrel — Considered the most important of these herbs, purchase sheep sorrel that’s been harvested in the late spring (May to mid-June) before its flowers open.
- Burdock root — It must be purchased and chopped fresh. Dried burdock root tends to become hard and difficult to chop.
- Slippery elm — Its inner bark is best bought powdered.
- Indian rhubarb root — You may buy rhubarb root in small pieces or powdered form.
Aside from these herbs, you'll need these tools to make essiac tea:21
- Two glass or stainless steel pots (one with lid)
- Stainless steel fine mesh strainer
- Large stainless steel or wood stirring utensil
- Stainless steel funnel or 2-cup glass measuring cup
- Dark amber glass bottles with air-tight caps, or Mason jars with air-tight lids (for storage)
Refrain from using pots made of aluminum and copper, or those coated with Teflon, because the tea can react with these materials. Use just one pan for making essiac tea. If you have to use different pots, thoroughly scrub and sterilize them by filling with warm water, boiling with the lid on for 10 minutes and pouring out the water afterward.22
Now that you have your herbs and materials ready, you can make essiac tea by following these steps suggested by “Essiac: A Native Herbal Cancer Remedy:”
- Combine dry ingredients thoroughly, and measure the desired amount you’ll be using for your tea.
- Pour proportionate amount of water into the pot.
- With the pot’s lid on, bring the water to a boil.
- Stir the dry ingredients into the boiling water.
- Change the pot’s lid, and continue boiling the mixture at reduced heat for around 10 minutes.
- Turn off the stove, scrape down the sides of the pot and stir the mixture thoroughly.
- Change the pot’s lid again and let the mixture sit for six to 12 hours.
- After letting the mixture rest, return it to the burner and reheat, but avoid boiling it.
- Turn off the heat and strain the contents into another pot.
- Clean the first pot and strainer thoroughly. Once done, strain the contents back into the first pot.
- Pour the hot liquid into the sterilized containers. Allow the tea to cool first, then tighten the lids. Refrigerate afterward.
If you plan to drink refrigerated essiac tea, gently but thoroughly shake the container so the sediment that forms will incorporate into the mixture.23
How to Store Essiac Tea
Keep the herbs used for making essiac tea in a cool and dark place,24 and avoid storing them in the refrigerator. Website Discount Essiac Tea suggests that because freshly brewed essiac tea doesn’t contain any additives or preservatives, it’s ideal to refrigerate it for not more than two weeks. After this period, the tea may spoil or lose its potency.25 Refrain from freezing and microwaving essiac tea.26
For easier stirring, essiac tea is best stored in an open pitcher. If you notice sediment at the bottom of the pitcher, don’t fret because this may be because of the herbs. Take a clean wooden spoon to stir the sediment, dispersing herbs that may not be mixed properly and reducing the risk of a huge clump forming at the bottom of the container.27
Ensure that your utensils have been sterilized before making this drink.28 Failure to do so, or even simply forgetting to place a newly opened bottle back in the refrigerator, could cause a distinct “furball” of mold to develop in the bottle after four to five days. The mold triggers a rancid and disgusting smell — a sign that you should throw out the tea immediately.29
Essiac Tea’s Side Effects
Consult your doctor before drinking essiac tea because this drink has been connected to numerous side effects. Essiac Facts reminds us that people consuming the tea should drink 3 to 4 quarts of high-quality filtered water daily.
Essiac tea has detoxification properties that may prompt toxins to be released from tissues and blood via the intestinal and urinary tracts. Once these toxins are released, they must be diluted immediately. If not, they may become concentrated and cause stress on the kidneys and liver.
People who are allergic to herbs used in making essiac tea can experience side effects like itchiness, rashes, runny and itchy eyes and hay fever with symptoms, such as sneezing and runny nose and eyes.30
Sheep sorrel is thought to be the main allergen. If you experience adverse effects, try cutting your dosage or stop taking the tea altogether.31 Burdock root may trigger allergic reactions too. Since it shares chemical properties with daisies, ragweed and chrysanthemum, people allergic to these plants must lessen or avoid essiac tea intake.32
Cases of diarrhea have also been linked to essiac tea, mainly because of rhubarb root, which has stimulant laxative properties.33 Oxalic acid in sorrel, slippery elm and rhubarb root may trigger nausea and vomiting, and increase the risk for liver damage and kidney-related problems such as:34,35
- Increased risk of kidney stone development
- Kidney damage caused by drinking large doses, or even permanent damage caused by tannins in the tea
- Increased kidney irritation that may stimulate urine production
Other side effects linked to essiac tea include headaches, swollen glands and skin issues.36 To help prevent these complications from occurring, here are some pointers to remember:37
- Start by sipping a very small dose of essiac tea to see how your body reacts.
- Drink essiac tea on an empty stomach, particularly during bedtime, at least two hours after eating. You may also drink tea in the morning, before consuming food. Refrain from eating two hours after.38
- Stick to a reasonable dose of essiac tea. Most 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, the potential impacts it can provide for your health cannot be ignored. Its 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, talk to a doctor to see if it is safe for you and, if so, to 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 contains antioxidant, immunostimulant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Arguably, essiac tea is most known for its potential anticancer effects, although most modern medicinal practitioners are hesitant to label this drink as a "cancer cure."
Q: How do you drink essiac tea?
A: Ideally, essiac tea must be consumed on an empty stomach.39 Drink essiac tea during bedtime, or at least two hours after a meal. People can drink essiac tea in the morning, too, provided that they do so before eating, and avoid consuming anything two hours after.40
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.