Cancer Fighting Plants

Numerous plants contain ingredients that fight against the occurrence and recurrence of cancer. Soy, grapes, broccoli, the list goes on. There is general agreement that eating a plant-rich diet, with lots of colorful vegetables, is the best thing you can do to fight against “the Big C.”

At the same time, about 55% of American households participate in gardening activities, with countless more worldwide. So why not combine the fun of gardening with the desirable goal of minimizing the risk of cancer?

For a long time, I spent my summers on the coast of Maine, where the growing season is notoriously short. I tried to make my planting choices with one eye on the plants’ anticancer potential. There are many beneficial plants that one could choose from. In this article, I discuss two of them, black raspberry and feverfew.

Black Raspberry Garden

Scientists at Ohio State University published favorable reports on black raspberries. In 2006, Buckeye State scientists studied the cancer-preventing effects of black raspberry extracts on a model of esophageal cancer in mice. Tumor-bearing animals were fed a diet containing five percent black raspberries (more than humans are likely to consume, of course, but good at bringing out effects in a study). Mice that ate black raspberries had approximately half as many tumors as control animals (Tian 2006).

Black raspberries are a natural COX-2 inhibitor, in the same class as Celebrex®, a synthetic COX-2 inhibitor, which reduces the formation of colon polyps. So, perhaps the same mechanism is at work–although I doubt that black raspberries also cause cardiovascular disease, the way Celebrex® did in the latest studies. The scientists said the berries have a “novel tumor suppressive role….” (Chen 2006). How’s that for a pleasurable way of helping to prevent a deadly disease?

Feverfew, a Surprising Herb

Feverfew is another garden plant particularly interesting for its anticancer potential. Monica L. Guzman, PhD, and Craig T. Jordan, PhD, of the University of Rochester Medical Center found that an extract of feverfew is effective against a type of human leukemia. They reported that feverfew extracts kill malignant stem cells like no other single therapy they have tested! The active ingredient was a derivative of parthenolide, one of a class of sesquiterpene lactones found in the plant.

The U.S. National Cancer Institute was sufficiently excited by this work to accept it into the rapid access program, which aimed to move experimental drugs from the laboratory to human clinical trials as quickly as possible. An increasing number of scientists believe that unless cancer is attacked at this level, it can rarely be controlled, much less cured.


  • Chen T, Hwang H, Rose ME, Nines RG, Stoner GD, Chemopreventive properties of black raspberries in N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine-induced rat esophageal tumorigenesis: down-regulation of cyclooxygenase-2, inducible nitric oxide synthase, and c-Jun. Cancer Res. 2006;66:2853-2859.
  • Comis RL. The current situation: Erlotinib (Tarceva) and gefitinib (Iressa) in non-small cell lung cancer. Oncologist. 2005;10:467-470.
  • Curry EA 3rd, Murry DJ, Yoder C, et al. Phase I dose escalation trial of feverfew with standardized doses of parthenolide in patients with cancer. Invest New Drugs. 2004;22:299-305.
  • Weil MJ, Zhang Y, Nair MG. Tumor cell proliferation and cyclooxygenase inhibitory constituents in horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) and Wasabi (Wasabia japonica). J Agric Food Chem. 2005;53:1440-1444.

Original Publication 2006