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Escharotics: Herbal Surgery for Tumours

by Lev G Fedyniak(more info)

listed in herbal medicine, originally published in issue 119 - January 2006

Imagine spreading a salve onto the skin at the site of a melanoma (a skin tumour), then, over the course of a couple of weeks, watching the tumour 'scab over' and fall off, taking the tumour with it while leaving the healthy skin underneath intact!

In essence, that is the core of Escharotics therapy, this botanical surgery method for treating cancer.

An Escharotics (from the Greek, meaning 'to burn') is any compound that has a caustic or burning action. It's something of a misnomer though, because the action of this class of compounds is very much more. While there may be a 'burning' reaction, as the compound gets to the tumour through the upper skin layers, the subsequent scab formation (called an eschar) that is selective for tumour cells is quite extraordinary.

This therapeutic approach has hundreds of years of history behind it and became quite popular in the mid-1800s to early 1900s, particularly in the UK and the United States. In fact, the US Patent Office records 4 patents awarded for Escharotics.

Today, there is a resurgence of interest and availability of this procedure all over the world.

The How and Why of Botanical Surgery

An aversion to surgery or 'fear of the knife', particularly when the surgery calls for the removal of more than just the tumour (i.e. the whole breast), has caused many to seek alternative approaches to cancer treatment, particularly herbal-based ones. Escharotics 'surgery' is one such alternative.

Essentially, the herb(s) and other components are made into a paste and spread onto the tumour site. The salve or paste splits the skin and the underlying tissue, forms around the abnormal cancer tissue, and separates it from the surrounding normal tissue.

It then forms a large scab called an eschar (from whence we have Escharotics therapy), which eventually sloughs off, taking the tumour with it. What's amazing is that the healthy tissue surrounding the tumour is left intact. The morbid and necrotized tissue separates from the underlying healthy tissue in about two to four weeks on the average. Because of this mechanism of distinguishing healthy from diseased tissue, it has proven to be effective treatment method for inoperable tumours. In these cases, underlying vessels and even nerves remain intact – an unlikely result if traditional surgery were employed.

What's also interesting is that when the eschar detaches the site is bloodless and the underlying tissues, including vascular and neural tissue, can be visible to the naked eye.

The salves and pastes employed in this botanical surgery procedure essentially all work the same way. It is also worth noting that, at its height (mid-1800s to early-1900s), these salves and pastes were available in Europe and America in most pharmacies, were popular and quite effective.

A Short History of Botanical Surgery

One of the earliest references we have about botanic surgery is from the Hindu classic, Ramayana (about 500 BC), where an 'arsenic paste' is described. Hippocrates, in about 400 BC, also makes mention of caustics as a treatment approach.

Other mention is made by the great Persian physician Avicenna (also known as Ibn Sina) in about 1000 AD, as well as the early 12th century Christian Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, both making references to herbal salves in the treatment of 'bubos', which we now call tumours.

Native American Indians (from North, Central and South America) maintained the practice of botanical surgery in very much the same way.

However, of the modern researchers, the two most respected and well-known authorities in the use of this approach were Dr J Weldon Fell and Frederic E Mohs MD, both of the United States.

Fell was a faculty member of New York University and later was one of the founders of the New York Academy of Medicine. In the early 1850s, he moved to London and built up a very successful cancer treatment practice based on Escharotics therapy using bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) as the herbal base. He published his results extensively. We know today that the alkaloids in bloodroot do indeed have a strong anti-tumour effect.

Frederic Mohs called his approach 'chemosurgery' and used a 'fixative paste'. His was more an integrative approach that combined the use of the Escharotics paste with surgical tumour removal and analysis, rather than allowing for the sloughing off of the eschar. His contribution is immense as he put the procedure on a very sound, scientific footing, with a tremendous amount of research that spanned decades. The soundness of his approach was underscored in a 1990 report that stated he had a verifiable and documented 99% success rate in his treatment of skin cancers.

Components and Procedure

There are both single- and multi-herb salves and pastes as well as herb/chemical combinations. The single herb ones tend to be of more limited effectiveness, used more with small skin tumours, or require multiple applications to bring about a deeper penetration.

Remember that if a salve or paste cannot thoroughly penetrate the tumour, it will not be completely destroyed and can grow back.

To overcome this, some practitioners, like Dr Fell, would make cuts into the eschar scab and add more of the salve to allow for such deeper penetration. Dr Mohs, on the other hand, would surgically remove the eschar and examine it under a microscope to determine if a line between healthy and abnormal tissue were evident. He would repeat applications of the salve until there was no longer evidence of abnormal tissue.

Upon application of the salve or paste, the site may become red, grey, yellow or black until the eschar begins to form. A discharge, usually pus-like, is common and, in my experience, is often quite foul smelling.

If the eschar falls off on its own there is no bleeding. However, if it is prematurely pulled off there may be some bleeding. Even though the eschar may have detached, expect the site to continue to release pus or fluid which must be drained and the wound kept clean. Also, look carefully to determine if there is any additional abnormal tissue evident, as a re-application of the salve may be necessary.

While there are 'solely herb' salves, most of the formulations in use today are a combination of herbs and zinc chloride. The zinc chloride causes the skin to split more readily, allowing the salve or paste to more easily get at the tumour. It is also taken up by the tumour tissue more quickly.

The herbs most commonly employed include Bloodroot, as already mentioned, Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Chaparral (Larrea tridentata), Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens), galangal root (Alpinia officinarium) and Red Clover (Trifolium pratence). There are however many other herbs in other formulations that are also used. In Ukraine, where I live and work, Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus) for example, is more commonly used.

Many of these formulations are commercially available today, being sold under such trade names as 'Black Salve', 'Cansema' and 'Compound X. While some manufacturers claim their formulas are proprietary, most are nonetheless based on the old prescriptions.

Wound management, including cleaning as there is often a discharge and a potential for infection (plain old hydrogen peroxide works great), and healing support, i.e. use of turmeric and vitamin E after the eschar falls off, are also necessary additional procedures.

The Downside of Botanic Surgery Treatment

There are several direct concerns in the use of Escharotics therapy that need to be addressed. The first is pain. The application of the paste or salve to the skin causes it to split as the compound makes its way to the tumour. That can produce pain ranging from mild irritation to almost unbearable, depending on the size and location of the tumour, as well as personal sensitivity and tolerance to pain. Therefore, access to pain medication is a strong inducement to proceed under the care of a physician. The pain medication can range from readily-available-without-a-prescription types like ibuprofen, to the very strong painkillers like Demerol (meperidine hydrochloride).

As we are dealing with an open wound, the next direct issue is the potential for infection. While some practitioners advocate the use of antibiotics, most do not. The herbs used in the Escharotics procedure are, for the most part, anti-microbial as well, and if the wound is kept clean, the potential for infection is minimal.

The third direct concern is the potential for significant scarring. However, with proper supportive care, the amount of scarring can be reduced as well. And let's not forget that surgery produces scarring as well, not to mention the disfigurement that breast removal, for example, will cause.

Bear in mind that it's important to know a person's cancer stage. Treating a tumour and excising it by botanic or traditional surgery may not lead to a 'cure' if there are other tumours in other parts of the body. Also, even if there is only one tumour that has successfully been eliminated, it's important to follow-up with your health practitioner regularly, as there can be recurrence at the same or another site in the body.

Not a Cure-all, Just an Option

No treatment exists in a vacuum. Botanic surgery is only one of numerous options in the treatment of cancer. What's more, no procedure should be undertaken as a sole treatment but as part of an approach. Supportive therapies, detoxification, dietary changes, etc. all accompany successful treatment of cancer. There is no single 'magic bullet' in either allopathic OR alternative approaches.

But, integrating alternative and allopathic treatments usually proves to be the most effective approach of all!


Guys R. Practical Observations on Cancers and Disorders of the Breast, Explaining Their Different Appearances and Events, to which are added, One Hundred Cases, Successfully Treated without Cutting. London. 1762.
Hartwell J. Plants Against Cancer. Quarterman Publications Inc. Lawrence. 1982.
Heinerman J. The Treatment of Cancer with Herbs. Biworld Publishers. Orem. 1980.
Mohs F. Chemosurgery: Microscopically Controlled Surgery for Skin Cancer. Charles C Thomas. Springfield. IL. 1978.
Naiman I. Cancer Salves: A Botanical Approach to Treatment. Seventh Ray Press. Santa Fe. NM. 1997.
Nichols P. The Value of Escharotics. The Roycrofters. East Aurora. 1933.
Pattison J. Cancer: It's Nature; and Successful and Comparatively Painless Treatment, without the Usual Operation with the Knife. H. Tuner and Co. London. 1866.

McDonald KR. MD. Mohs Micrographic Surgery. Dept of Otolaryngology. UTMB. Grand Rounds. September 14, 1994.
Mohs RE. Chemosurgery for skin cancer: fixed-tissue and fresh-tissue technique. Arch Dermatol. 112: 211-215. 1976.
Robins P. Chemosurgery: My 15 years of experience. J Dermatol Surg Oncol. 7: 779-789. 1981.
Rowe DE. Mohs Surgery Is the Treatment of Choice for Recurrent (Previously Treated) Basal Cell Carcinoma. J Dermatol Surg Oncol. 15:4: 424-430. 1989.

Websites (excellent photo series of a treatment)


  1. Maria Duffy said..

    I've just found this site,I have been using a variety of salves through my herbalist..these have been quite mild and although the breast tumour is very much on the surface of the skin, it's not actually disappearing.Do you know of any herbal practioners in the UK experienced who have used escharotic salves for breast cancer?
    Thankyou Maria

  2. Roy Dow said..

    Hi Maria,
    Check out I think that's it.
    Google it

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About Lev G Fedyniak

Lev G Fedyniak MD is the author of Cancer Killing Medicinal Mushrooms available from Amazon. He began his medical career by studying Traditional Chinese Medicine (acupuncture, herbs, etc.) before going to medical school. He has since traveled the world studying indigenous medical traditions and researching plants and healing therapies that can help heal disease and ease suffering. Dr Fedyniak can be reached at

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