The herbal mixture Essiac has emerged as one of the most popular forms of alternative treatment in the past century. Originally created by an Ojibwa healer, the mixture was promoted by Canadian nurse Rene Caisse as a treatment for multiple health conditions, most famously cancer.
Caisse only administered Essiac in tea form during her lifetime, but with the increasing popularity of Essiac and growing number of manufacturers wishing to produce Essiac, different forms of administration are now available. In addition to tea, the mixture can be taken as a tonic/tincture or capsule. Each delivery method has its pros and cons to consider when deciding among them, including varying levels of effectiveness, convenience, ease of storage, and price, among other factors.
What is Essiac Tonic?
A tincture is a concentrated herbal extract usually made with alcohol. It is made by steeping the essiac herbs in alcohol for days to weeks, then straining the solution. Most herbal tinctures use ethanol as the solvent, though alternative solvents exist. One alternative solvent is glycerol, which has significantly less alcohol, for those unaccustomed to herbal extracts. For external/topical application, ether and vinegar can be used. Glycerite, a non-alcoholic option, also exists for those who abstain from alcohol consumption.
The beneficial molecules in Essiac can be either water-soluble (polar/charged) or non-water soluble (nonpolar/uncharged). Calling on the old adage, “Like dissolves like,” which posits that polar solvents (such as water) dissolve charged solutes and that nonpolar solvents dissolve uncharged solutes, this presents a potential advantage of tinctures over the traditional tea version of Essiac.
If only water is used to brew the herbs in tea, this means that helpful uncharged molecules are unlikely to be adequately dissolved in the brew. The advantage of a tincture over a solely water-based formula is that having alcohol as a solvent effectively dissolves both types of solutes. One can also change the ratio of ethanol to water in order to make tinctures with different solute concentrations, due to the differential abilities of the alcohol and water content to dissolve various molecules. Notably, glycerite does not have the advantage of dissolving uncharged molecules.
Benefits of Essiac Tonic
As already discussed, certain molecules are more soluble in alcohol, and thus a tincture will have greater availability of those molecules. In terms of convenience, a tincture is more easily stored compared to tea, as it is does not need to be refrigerated and also requires less storage space due to its concentrated nature. Compared to capsules, extracts are similar in terms of storage. Commercial tinctures are also easier to prepare than teas, which require a lengthy boiling process. Compared to capsules, though, tinctures are generally considered less convenient, as one must mix the tincture with a beverage. Another advantage over tea is that the alcohol in essiac tonic acts as a preservative, whereas teas are more prone to spoilage.
Many Essiac proponents are opposed to any Essiac formulation other than the original essiac tea recipe, mostly because tea was the only form used by Caisse in her reported 50 years of success. In addition, it is unclear how the alcohol contained in a tincture affects the properties attributed to the tea or whether alcohol denatures any compounds in Essiac. In terms of price, extracts tend to be more expensive than tea, but comparable to or less expensive than essiac capsules.
Essiac comes in a variety of forms, from the traditional tea, to tinctures/tonics and capsules. Caisse used and researched Essiac tea exclusively, but there are several possible advantages to the other forms, as well as drawbacks. Unfortunately, no known studies have been conducted to compare the efficacy of the different forms. The decision to use one form versus another relies primarily on personal preference and beliefs regarding the importance of remaining true to the original formulation.