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ESSIAC TEA:
Harmless Herbs More Effective
Than Conventional Treatments
by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.
Of the many blessings bestowed upon us on our blue planet, medicinal herbs represent the healing power of Nature in full force. We need only to use them to reap their benefits. Formulas have traditionally been put together through ages of trial and error, experimentation, and folklore. An old Ojibwa Indian formula that has withstood the test of time even in our pharmaceutical age and enjoyed much popularity (and some controversy) is Essiac. In previous issues of the Well Being Journal, you learned about the story of Essiac, miraculous healings, regression of tumors; the stories and testimonials of total cure of cancer are myriad. In my own practice a woman with Parkinsonism and several other patients who were suffering terribly from the side effects of chemotherapy drank the tea and all had remarkable benefit and improvement.

The controversy around Essiac stems mostly from questions about what IS the formula? Some say the original formula had eight herbs and some say only four. Although in this article my goal is to inform you about the herbs themselves, what their main constituents are, their actions on the body, and why they would be an excellent treatment for tumors and health problems of all kinds, since the question came up, I will cover the first four main herbs, Burdock root, Sheep sorrel, Slippery Elm Bark, and Turkish (some say Turkey) Rhubarb root, followed by the remaining four, Red Clover Blossom, Blessed Thistle, Watercress, and Kelp. Currently, the formula called Essiac consists of the first four herbs mentioned. Tea is the best form to take these herbs for many reasons, but for one, Burdock root, Slippery elm, and Sheep sorrel all contain mucilage (a gelatin-like substance which is demulcent and emollient, meaning softening and soothing), which needs water to activate it. Second, drinking medicine in the form of tea brings much needed water into the system, something we don't seem to get enough of these days.

Burdock root (Arctium lappa) is the root of the plant that leaves its tell-tale calling card on your jeans, socks and clothing when you run through the fields, the bur. The bur is the dried flowering head, and the fruit of the plant is called an achene, a small, dry, one-seeded fruit that does not open to liberate the seed, and in the case of Burdock, the seed is also covered with short coarse hairs. All parts of the Burdock plant can be utilized; the oil pressed from the seed is used in aromatherapy, the leaves are used as a tea and historically were used as a poultice for poison oak, poison ivy, and burns, but it is the root that has properties particularly beneficial in the treatment of cancer. Remember that herbs rarely, if ever, contain only one substance with one action. The beauty of herbal medicine is that when there are other actions, they are most often an additional bonus to the primary action of the herb. For example, Burdock root contains tannins, bitter glycosides, Arctiopicrin and Inulin, flavonoids, resin, mucilage, vitamins A, B1, E, and H (biotin), zinc, manganese, chromium, sulfur, and polyphenol antioxidants, all having different effects in the body including blood sugar balancing, balancing intestinal flora and function, liver cleansing, skin clearing, and enhancing elimination of wastes, but impressively, it was the Journal of Chemotherapy which identified one of the constituents, Arctigenin as exhibiting potent inhibition of tumor growth. The Journal of Mutation Research reports that Burdock decreases the potential of cell mutation when exposed to mutagent chemicals. The traditional uses of Burdock in Naturopathic medicine are as a general antibacterial, antifungal, a diuretic, a neutralizing agent for acidosis, a blood lipid lowering agent, anti-cancer agent, immune system protector and antitoxin. It is used in treatment of kidney, liver, urinary and uterine problems, mouth sores and ulcers, all forms of skin disease and gout. The Toxicology of Botanical Medicines identifies Burdock root as a uterine stimulant, so its use in pregnancy where there has been threat of miscarriage would be contra-indicated. The fact that research has confirmed Burdock's anti-cancer activity should lay to rest any doubt of its efficacy. It has earned it's place as a healing tool in the fight against cancer.

Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) actually has quite a history as a food or culinary herb/food. It was one of the foods consumed in the past to prevent scurvy. One of my favorite soups from my mother's Polish kitchen is Sorrel soup (Zupa szczawiowa). It is delicious. Sorrel has a very tart flavor (the prefix of the second part of the botanical name, "aceto," identifies it as being vinegar-like, as in acetic acid), and is loaded with nutrition. It contains vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E, K, P, and U, the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, silicon, sulfur, copper, iodine, manganese and zinc, carotenoids, chlorophyll, and several organic acids including malic, oxalic, tannic, tartaric and citric. Oxalic acid, also found in rhubarb and spinach, can be toxic in large amounts, but the amount of oxalic acid in sheep sorrel is far below what is already considered safe. Sheep sorrel also contain mucilage, in fact the soup mentioned above needs no thickening, because it thickens naturally. One of the constituents, Aloe-emodin anthrone, has anti-cancer properties. Another closely related species, Yellow Dock or Curly Dock (Rumex crispus), native to our area, also exhibits the same anti-cancer properties. Another important property of the Sheep sorrel is that it has the ability to stimulate and move the lymphatic fluid of the body.

Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus fulva) contains primarily mucilage. The inner bark is used to heal inflammation of the mucous membranes of the respiratory and digestive systems, and is nutritive, protecting and astringent. The FDA even acknowledges Slippery elm as an excellent soothing agent, making it useful for sore throats and digestive difficulties. It also contains high levels of anti-oxidants which protect tissue while the demulcent action breaks up and helps to eliminate catarrh and blockage. The ability of a substance to alter, improve and heal tissue when it comes in contact with it while at the same time helping to soften and detoxify, gives Slippery elm special importance in the treatment of cancer.

Turkish Rhubarb Root (Rheum palmatum) has traditionally been used for digestive complaints. It improves loss of appetite and increases the flow of saliva and gastric secretions. It is a gentle laxative, normalizes bowel movements, and contains the same constituent, Aloe-emodin, also present in Sheep sorrel, which has shown anti-cancer activity in lymphocytic leukemia and Walker carcinoma. It is recognized as being helpful in preventing the progression of chronic renal failure.

The preceding four herbs are the members of what is today called the Essiac formula, but for those of you whose curiosity about the "other" herbs would not rest until you find out about them, the following list is for you. Please note that all the mentioned herbs and substances have healing and balancing properties, and that if you use four herbs or eight herbs, you will have a beneficial effect. One formula is not "worse" or "better," they are just different. You choose for yourself which is best for you.

Red Clover Blossom (Trifolium pratense) tea has been used traditionally as a blood purifier, helping the body eliminate wastes and toxins through the skin, kidneys and bowels. Red clover stimulates the activity of phagocytes, the body's "pac-man" cells that gobble up invading organisms. Red clover contains Phenolic glycosides, flavonoids, cyanogenic glycosides, and coumarins. It is also one of the plant phytoestrogens that can inhibit the growth of tumors, particularly in the prostate. The flowers are considered edible and can be eaten in salad raw, cooked or steeped in a tea. Red clover is considered an alterative (tonic for the blood, restores normal organ function), a "brain food," anti-spasmodic, expectorant, nutritive, and a dermatological agent. Externally, the tea may be used as a skin wash, in steam baths, and as a hair rinse. Red Clover is part of the Hoxsey formula.

Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) also called Holy thistle, is primarily a bitter tonic, astringent, diaphoretic (promotes sweating when taken as a hot tea), antibacterial and expectorant. Early herbalists believed it was a cure-all. It could both prevent and cure a headache, provoke sweat, improve memory, strengthen the heart and stomach, and cure external problems such as festering sores, boils and itch. The primary constituent, cnicin, has been studied and shows to be cytotoxic (able to kill abnormal cells), antibiotic and anti-inflammatory. The fact that it is of the thistle family of which another popular type is being widely used today (Milk thistle), gives it a particular benefit in detoxifying the liver, of particular importance when treating cancer.

Kelp (Laminaria digitata) is stimulating to the thyroid gland, the metabolic regulator. Kelp has been shown to protect the body from the damaging effects of radiation. The alginates in sea kelp have shown to prevent absorption of deadly Strontium-90. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission guidelines advocate 2 tablespoons of alginate supplement per day to prevent Strontium-90 absorption and the associated problems that go with it, such as leukemia, bone cancer, and Hodgkin's disease. Kelp is important in preventing and treating breast cancer. Commercial kelp sources are considered safe because they are tested for heavy metals, and must not show more than 3 ppm of arsenic and 10 ppm of lead.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is another edible herb with impressive medicinal properties. The peppery flavor of watercress has long made it a popular salad green. It is very high in mineral salts, iodine, vitamins C, A, B2, D, and E, and was used traditionally as a scurvy preventive, blood purifier, and a kidney and liver aid. More recently, research has revealed that Watercress contains chemicals called phenethyl isothiocynates which are recommended for the prevention and treatment of lung cancer as well as other cancers. In Germany, it is recognized as a treatment for duodenal ulcers and inflammatory kidney disease.

Herbs in all their forms and combinations are a source of healing for mankind. Although the testimonials associated with Essiac tea are truly impressive, healing cancer may require other adjunctive therapies such as counseling, diet and lifestyle changes, stress management, exercise, fresh air, water and a fresher outlook on life. Disease is a response to abnormality in our lives. To normalize is to heal.

References:
American Cancer Society 1993. Cancer facts and Figures. Atlanta, GA.
Carper, J. 1993. Food Your Miracle Medicine: How Food Can Prevent and Cure Over 100 Symptoms and Problems. Based on more than 1,000 scientific studies. Pp.220-232 HarperCollins,NY
Castleman, M. 1991. The Healing Herbs. The Ultimate Guide to the Curative Power of Nature's Medicines.
Chung, F. L., et al. 1992. Quantitation of Human Uptake of the Anticarcinogen Phenethyl Isothiocyanate after a Watercress Meal. Cancer Epidem., Biomarkers and Prevention (4) 877-884.
Duke, J. 1992. Handbook of Biologically Active Phytochemicals and Their Activities. Pp. 32 CRC Press.
Foldeak and Dombradi 1964. Tumour-growth inhibiting substances of plant origin. Isolation of the active principle of Arctium lappa: Acta phys. Et chem. Szeged, 10: 91-93
Hoffman, David 1983. The Holistic Herbal
Morita et al. 1985. Chemical Nature of a desmutagenic Factor from Burdock (Arctium lappa Linne). Agric. Biol. Chem., 49 (4) 925-932
Reader's Digest Books 1986. Magic and Medicine of Plants


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