[Rumex acetosella] This tall, perennial herb of the buckwheat family is, depending on one’s perspective, either a nuisance weed or a lifesaver.

Originally from Europe this herb is now naturalised in North America and considered a noxious and invasive weed in many agricultural areas. In contrast, it has been used by Native American tribes in Canada and the U.S. as a food and medicine, most notably in a healing formula containing three other herbs – slippery elm, burdock and rhubarb. This formula came to the attention, in the early 1920s, of a Canadian nurse Rene Caisse who used it to treat cancer patients. This four-pronged herbal combination came to be known as Essiac (‘Caisse’ spelt backward) and has become popular as a cancer preventive and treatment.

Sheep Sorrel has a pungent lemon scent but despite its distinctive sour taste is greatly enjoyed by grazing animals. It contains b-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A) and vitamins C, D, E, K and B complex, as well a range of minerals including silicon, sulphur and copper. In addition, it contains phytoestrogens similar to those found in legumes such as red clover, licorice and soy, all known for their health-restoring properties.

Sheep Sorrel has been traditionally used to treat inflammation, fever and scurvy, and is considered a ‘cleansing’ herb, due in part to its diuretic effect.

Although scientific data on sheep sorrel is limited, in vitro studies have demonstrated that Essiac tea possesses properties that are common to natural anti-cancer agents – it has potent antioxidant and DNA-protective activity, as well as an immune enhancing and tumour-inhibiting effect.

ACTIONS: antioxidant, diuretic, mildly laxative (at higher doses), anti-inflammatory.

CAUTION: fresh sheep sorrel eaten in excess can be toxic to grazing animals due to the oxalates it contains. Likewise, administering excessive doses can cause kidney or liver damage. It is contraindicated in those with a history of kidney stones.

DRUG INTERACTIONS: The laxative and diuretic components of sheep sorrel may increase the action of drugs with similar activity and should thus not be taken simultaneously with such drugs.

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