Essiac Counterfeiters


As an ESSIAC® distributor, the question I am most frequently asked is: "What's the difference between ESSIAC® and all those other products claiming to be the same thing - l'm totaly confused?"It's a fair question and I sought the answer to that one back in 1993, when I desperately wanted ESSIAC® for my own use but couldn't find it. The answer rests as much with the integrity, quality and ratios of the herbs as with anything else. Source of the herbs and where they are grown, is of paramount importance because of the absence of quality control standards in this field in North America.With ESSIAC®, you can be confident you are getting the correct herbs assembled to Nurse Rene Caisse’s exact specifications that she entrusted to Resperin Corporation and no other. None but Resperin can document and support that claim. That is reason enough to suspect products that can be characterized as counterfeits, knock-offs or me-too's.And there are scores of them and if there is confusion among consumers, they are the cause. ESSIAC® (with an ® and from Resperin Corporation, her picture and authorized signature on the box) by any other name is NOT ESSIAC®! In saying that, I can be accused of commercial self-interest, so let me hasten to elaborate on my experience in trying to obtain the authentic ESSIAC® a few years ago.


It was a coast to coast exercise including a personal visit to Nurse Caisse's hometown of Bracebridge, Ontario. Like many people, I learned about Rene Caisse and her original proprietary herbal formula from an article in homemakers Magazine in 1977, which was inspired and co-authored by Sheila Snow who lives near Bracebridge and was all admiring friend of Nurse Caisse.She is also a close friend of Mary McPherson who worked with Nurse Caisse and still lives in Bracebridge. I have Collie to know Sheila and count her as I friend.It was after the homemaker article appeared, and a year before she died at age 90, that Nurse Caisse entrusted her proprietary herbal formula and trademark only to Resperin Corporation.Since ESSIAC® had been originally classified as a drug by the Canadian Government, for the next 15 years it was restricted and could only be obtained through a doctor's application under the government’s Emergency Drug Release Program.That restriction was finally lifted in 1992, but not before a plethora of preparations claiming to be ESSIAC® stole a quick market march on ESSIAC® Products of Campbellton, New Brunswick, which has legal title to Resperin's ESSIAC® original proprietary herbal formula, including the trademark.ESSIAC's four vital ingredients have been revealed by Nurse Caisse and they appear on the packaging along with her picture and her authorized signature. They are sheep sorrel, Indian rhubarb root, slippery elm bark and burdock root. Eventually a version of the formula appeared in a book by Californian Gary Glum titled "Calling of an Angel". Glum's recipe became widely publicized through alternative health writers and publications and by the early 1990's had inspired a host of entrepreneurs to leap into the market with knock-offs. Some even called their product Essiac, ignoring the fact that they were trespassing on a registered trade mark. Others used various names that approximated the real name. Ezzeac, Eziak, Essex and Easy-Ac are examples.Some of these people were well-meaning, others were out for the quick buck. Possibly the most fraudulent of all are people selling the herbs in capsule form to unsuspecting consumers. ESSIAC® is produced in powder form for maximum potency and can only be prepared by brewing the herbs by infusion. To sell it in capsule form is totally deceptive.


Undoubtedly the most enterprising and aggressive of these entrepreneurs was Vancouver radio talk show co-host Elaine Alexander who died from ovarian cancer in April, 1996. She came out with her own version, brazenly claiming it was ESSIAC® to which she had some form of legal entitlement from the late Dr. Charles Brusch's (own formula) of Massachusetts. He had worked with Nurse Rene Caisse during the 1960's and by his own admission, the nurse never revealed her formula to him. Rene Caisse supplied him with the herbs already formulated.There exists a tape of a 1986 on-air interview Ms. Alexander had with Dr. Brusch. At one point she asked him directly if he had the formula and his answer was a definite "no". He was taking ESSIAC® for his own purposes at that time and was obtaining his supplies from Resperin. He described his difficulties in getting the product through US Customs.Ms. Alexander settled on the FlorEssence name after she had been legally challenged for associating the name "ESSIAC" with her product. Her response to the action came through her lawyers. It was a terse 22-words: "Please be advised that Elaine Alexander has no agreement with Dr. Charles Brusch for ESSIAC® or the product ESSIAC® under another name".A copy of this letter as well as the agreement between Resperin and Rene Caisse is available from ESSIAC® International, P.O. Box 23155, Ottawa, Ontario Canada K2A 4E2.I was not aware of all this in 1993, when I went looking for Essiac®. In every store I tried, I was handed FlorEssence and told it was the "same thing". I looked at the ingredients and two red lights went on. First there were seven herbs instead of four vital herbs revealed by Nurse Caisse which left me wondering how much of the four main herbs were in the package, how much was taken up by the other three and the quality. And secondly, it listed "sorrel", not sheep sorrel. (An eighth ingredient, kelp, had since been added and sorrel has been changed to sheep sorrel in the labeling).I rejected FlorEssence simply because I was skeptical of the marketing claims when the ingredients didn't measure up. And I had little confidence in a company that didn't know the difference between sorrel and sheep sorrel. This product is put out by a British Columbia company called Flora which did its best to cover up Elaine Alexander's illness by rushing a letter to its customers and friends obscuring the illness that caused her death. The true story finally broke in the suburban press a few weeks later -- a remarkably long delay for a person with such a high public profile.I don't question that FlorEssence may be a good product -- it just isn't Rene Caisse's Original Herbal Formulation as the company's promotion continues to imply. I hear from people all the time who say they are handed FlorEssence when they ask for ESSIAC® in stores.So back in 1993, I did what many others have done and went the do-it-yourself route. I picked up the four main herbs, and brewed them up a Ia Glum's instructions. I drank that for a few months until early in 1994 when I spotted the first ad from ESSIAC® International. I immediately called the company and spoke with a research scientist who had taken over the reins from Resperin and was making ESSIAC® available as a shelf product with no therapeutic claims whatsoever.


One of my first questions was: "What's the big difference between your product and what I'm making up on my own?" "Premium quality herbs and exact ratios", he said. "You have no idea what you are getting. The correct ratios are vitally important and we are the only people with the proportions specified directly by Rene Caisse." He explained that there are no standards or regulations in herbal agriculture and marketing in North America so one has no idea how old the stuff is, whether its organically grown or contaminated or not or indeed if the herbs are really what the label says they are.Sheep sorrel is a case in point. This is a critical herb and it is expensive and difficult to source in commercial quantities. So substitutes such as curly dock or yellow dock are widely used. He said all ESSIAC® herbs are grown in Europe -- mainly Switzerland and Germany -- where herbs have been grown for generations and standards, which are strictly adhered to, are the most stringent in the world."Even so, we didn't take any chances and do microbiological assays to confirm the identity of the herbs, their quality and to check for herbicides, pesticides, moisture content and other contaminants," he said. Harvesting times are vitally important. For example Indian rhubarb root must be six years old, while burdock root must be from first year plants.Just recently, I confirmed that the information about sheep sorrel is accurate. An Ottawa resident bought what she thought was sheep sorrel in dried form from a herbal retailer. She showed it to a herb-wise friend who found that it was a substitute, one of the dock family, with large reddish triangular seed pods holding a single triangular seed that was much larger than sheep sorrel seeds. The stems were larger that the sheep sorrel plant and it failed the taste test as well – "no distinctive tang".She complained to the store owner and he said it came from one of Canada's largest and most reputable herbal wholesalers. So this substitute is being sold as sheep sorrel in a lot of stores in Canada. The same problem exists in the United States. I became involved in promoting and distributing ESSIAC® as a means of getting it for myself and others because retailers were very slow to stock it. Indeed, some were downright hostile towards ESSIAC®, considering it an interloper on Elaine Alexander's turf.From my experience with ESSIAC® over the past three years, the bottom line is that I believe that Essiac® International is providing a premium product that is the original herbal formula Rene Caisse used in her work. I do not have that confidence in any of the counterfeits.

Courtenay, BC, Canada 
February, 1997