Essiac tea is made from a variety of herbs that claim to have healing properties. The tea was first offered in Canada as an anti-cancer treatment in 1924. The tea is named for a public health nurse by spelling her last name backwards. Rene Caisse obtained the recipe for the tea from a patient of hers in 1922 who claimed she had gotten the recipe from an Ojibwa medicine man, and used it to treat her breast cancer. In 1924, after claiming to treat her aunt’s stomach cancer with the tea, Caisse opened a clinic where she offered the remedy to other cancer patients. Essiac tea has been promoted as a cure-all home remedy; with claims evolving to include the tea as an immunity booster and a treatment for AIDS, as well as an anti-inflammatory, and supplement for digestive problems. Essiac Tea contains a blend of Burdock Root, Slippery Elm Bark, Blessed Thistle, Watercress and Indian Rhubarb. Some commercial blends also contain kelp. Essiac Tea can be purchased as a dry ingredient for home brewing, or as a ready- made tea.
Tests have been conducted on the effectiveness of Essiac tea since the early 1960s. To date, there is no conclusive evidence that this tea blend has any effect on curing, treating or preventing cancer. In actuality, these tests have concluded that the tea does not seem to have any effect on any type of ailment it is purported to help. During one study some test subjects reported feeling better after drinking Essiac tea. This could have been a placebo effect due to a lack of physical evidence to support the claims. Studies conducted at the Sloan-Kettering Institute and the National Cancer Institute during the 1950s through the 1980s could not find evidence that the tea was effective in cancer treatment or healing. It is thought that some of the components of the teas may have anti-inflammatory properties, but these are agents specific to the individual herbs, not the tea blend itself.
Allergic reaction to the herbs in Essiac tea is uncommon but possible. Side effects reported are mild and include low blood sugar, headache, and nausea. As an herbal remedy, Essiac tea is currently not listed as a complementary treatment for patients diagnosed with cancers such as mesothelioma. Patients with healthy dietary habits are generally better equipped to fight disease, especially during treatment and healing. The American Cancer Society has defined a balanced diet as one that includes five or more servings per day of fruits and vegetables, and limits the intake of red meat and animal fat. Malnutrition has been linked to vulnerability to infection. By assisting in symptom relief, nutrition can benefit mesothelioma patient well-being.