Essiac Tea: Is It Good For You?

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on November 17, 2022
3 min read

In 1922, nurse Rene Caisse first introduced essiac tea to the world. She presented it as an alternative treatment for cancer. The story goes that she had a patient who claimed essiac tea cured their breast cancer. That patient gave Caisse the formula, which originally came from an Ontario Ojibwa healer.

In 1934, Caisse opened her own cancer clinic in Ontario, Canada where essiac was provided to patients for free. However, when the Royal Cancer Commission of Canada visited the clinic in 1938, they found little evidence that essiac tea was helping patients. By 1942 Caisse had shut down her clinic, but continued to distribute the tea to patients well into the 1970s.

Traditionally, the tea is composed of four ingredients:

  • Burdock root (Arctium lappa)
  • Indian rhubarb root (Rheum palmatum)
  • Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
  • Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra)

However, more modern preparations available on the market often include additional ingredients, such as:

  • Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
  • Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus)
  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
  • Kelp (Laminaria digitata)

Understandably for a product that has been available for nearly 100 years, there has been a lot of research into the health benefits of essiac tea. So, is essiac tea really good for you?

As with many teas, essiac tea is such a diluted form of its ingredients, so it doesn’t have much to measure per cup. This means there’s no measurable:

  • Calories
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fiber
  • Sugar

Depending on the manufacturer, every 1 ounce serving of essiac tea may contain small amounts of:

For a person with no major health problems, essiac tea is not likely to be harmful. However, research has also failed to prove any of its claimed benefits. 

Cancer Treatment

Some lab experiments have tentatively shown essiac tea may decrease proliferation of some cancer cells. However, other experiments have indicated some of the herbs in essiac tea can help cancer grow.

Health Maintenance.

As all tea is more than 99% water, essiac tea may be a good source of hydration, comparable to tap water. Your body needs water to carry out natural processes such as temperature regulation, waste removal, joint lubrication, and much more.

Generally speaking, essiac tea has been known to cause discomfort. One woman reported symptoms including nausea, anorexia, myalgia (muscle pain), fatigue, and abdominal pain following consumption of essiac tea over the course of six months. According to the manufacturer of the brand Flor essence, other side effects of the tea may include:

  • Increased bowel movements
  • Frequent urination
  • Swollen glands
  • Skin blemishes
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Headaches

Other potential risks of essiac tea are more serious:

Cancer Concerns

Research into essiac tea's effect on cancer has been conducted by the National Cancer Institute, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and many other institutions. To date, the results have been conflicting. 

Several studies have shown the drink stimulates the growth of certain cancer cells. This effect has been observed in two lab studies, and one study with rats.

Essiac tea may also interact negatively with chemotherapy. One case has been reported where it may have caused increased toxicity in the blood of a chemotherapy patient. Many experts caution against combining essiac tea and chemotherapy.

If you’re looking for a delicious cup of herbal tea, consider these alternatives:

  • Chamomile
  • Hibiscus
  • Rooibos
  • Rose Hip