Solzhenitsyn’s cancer of stomach cured

Stomach cancer cured in Cancer Ward

cancer stomach

Solzhenitsyn, Kazakhstan, 1953

Solzhenitsyn and stomach cancer

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian dissident, was “nearly dead at that stage” (i.e. 1953), he said in his Nobel acceptance speech; he had been suffering with cancer of the stomach while on his way to exile in Tashkent and treatment in a cancer clinic. During his journey, a herbalist treated him with a herb, either Aconite, chaga (Inonotus obliquus), or the Root From Issyk-Kul (Mandragora officinarum?). Solzhenitsyn lived another fifty-five years until his death in 2008 – not bad, even by today’s medical outcomes.

Solzhenitsyn told this story in his book Cancer Ward, a book that was largely autobiographical according to Harris Coulter who, coincidentally, was a historian of homeopathy and translator of at least one of Solzhenitsyn’s works.

Root from Issyk-Kul

The “root from Issyk-Kul” is largely responsible for curing his stomach cancer; but what was this herb? In a discussion between Vera and Kostoglotov (pages 248 following in Dolberg’s translation of Cancer Ward), it is clear the root referred to is the deadly poisonous plant aconite. (Aconite, we are told in the novel, was kept on hand as a source of suicide should the suffering become too severe.) However, other references to a root from Issyk-Kul refer to the mandrake root (Mandragora off). The remaining remedy cited by Solzhenitsyn is chaga, but chaga is a fungus and not a root, so isn’t the plant that presumably helped Solzhenitsyn. On page 157 we are told “the peasants near Moscow didn’t get cancer – they drank chaga instead of tea,” and they used to use it for kindling fires. Kostoglotov called it a birch cancer.

Inonotus obliquus.jpg

Chaga fungus


Chaga, however, has a malignant appearance and has an affinity with cancer in many cultures. Having a connection with coals – carbon, a carcinogen and a well known group of cancer remedies in homeopathy – gives credence to chaga as a cancer prophylactic and or treatment. Wikipedia informs us:

The name “chaga” comes from the Russian name of the fungus…known commonly as a “clinker” (when coal fires were common), cinder conk, black mass and birch canker polypore… In Norwegian, the name is kreftkjuke which literally translates as “cancer polypore”, referring to the fungus’ appearance or to its alleged medicinal properties…

root of Issyk-Kul

Mandragora officinarum fruits


Mandragora belongs to the Solanaceae family, which consists of belladonna, stramonium, hyoscyamus, potato, tobacco and capsicum. Problems with mandrake being the curative root are that it is not native to Russia or the Urals, is rarely used in modern herbal medicine and has more of an affinity for the mind than malignancies. Wikipedia explains that,

Mandrake has a long history of medicinal use, although superstition has played a large part in the uses to which it has been applied. It is rarely prescribed in modern herbalism.

The root is hallucinogenic and narcotic. In sufficient quantities, it induces a state of unconsciousness and was used as an anaesthetic for surgery in ancient times. In the past, juice from the finely grated root was applied externally to relieve rheumatic pains. It was also used internally to treat melancholy, convulsions, and mania. When taken internally in large doses, however, it is said to excite delirium and madness.

Mandragora off is little known in homeopathy but Nancy Herrick performed a proving of it in 1999. From what we do know, Mandragora is not what could be classed as pertaining to the cancer miasm: Tabaccum, for obvious reasons (lung cancer) does and Dr J.H. Clarke regarded it as a remedy for cancer of the lip (see Conium: “cancer of lip from weight of a pipe”). Solanum tuberosum, the potato plant, and Solanum tuberosum aegrotans the remedy made from diseased potato, have a reputation in cancer of the abdomen and bowel. We are told: “Burnett cured a case of tumours feeling like masses of potatoes in the abdomen with Sol. tuberosum, and it assisted him in the cure of a case of tumours all round the cervix uteri.” Erastus Case presented a case cured with Sol-t-ae, the symptoms were as follows:

Hysterical laughter when excited;
vertigo while sitting, with tendency to fall forward;
dull pain in the head, worse from motion;
Menses with black clots, profuse, intermittent with odour of decaying fish.
Burning itching of labia caused by the flow.
Palpitation of the heart with faintness from exertion.

(Quoted from Some Clinical Experiences of Erastus E. Case, MD, pp. 208-209; edited by Jay Yasgur, RPH., MSc.)

Aconite Solzhenitsyn

Aconitum napellus; Monkshood

Aconitum napellus

Aconite, commonly known as Monkshood, which was used in medicine until fairly recently, is referenced twice in Cancer Ward.

From good homeopathic provings (a proving is where a substance is given to healthy people and the symptoms recorded. Then, knowing what the substance causes, we know what it can cure; it cures symptoms similar to what it causes. This was Hahnemann’s great discovery; that like cures like), Aconite has not been shown to have an affinity for cancer.

Aconite is more of an acute remedy; short and quick acting and has an affinity for the heart and mind (fear; a delusion one is to die at a certain time). Aconite is great in cardiac arrest and fearfulness – e.g. of flying and acute intense fears – and so is not really a remedy for chronic, deep pathology like cancer. (You can read Dr Kent’s lecture on Aconite, based on his experience of it, here).

cancer stomach Solzhenitsyn

Hydrastis canadensis

Hydrastis canadensis

But, worthy of note, a similar remedy from the same family (Ranunculaceae) is Hydrastis canadensis (Golden seal), which had a great reputation with the early homeopathic doctors in cancer of the stomach (they had the opportunity to treat such pathology. Kent’s experience with Hydrastis can be read here.)

Hydrastis, as Kent said, is deeper-acting than Aconite, and a Doctor James shared his experience with it, in an interesting case of stomach cancer (available here: pp. 193-196), at the seventeenth annual meeting of the International Hahnemannian Association in 1896. Dr James recounts his experience as follows:

.. Dr. James—Sometimes in a case like that reported by Doctor Case, the sulphur may occasion the eruption to disappear,and then the old symptoms may return. Of course the proof of the pudding is the eating of it; consequently as the doctor succeeded with the sulphur it is all very well, but I am exceedingly careful when I meet with a case where an eruption comes out, I am careful how I make my next prescription. I am very unwilling to prescribe for an eruption on the skin following such a condition. I remember some years ago a case that had been for some years under the care of Doctor Lippe. He declared it to be cancerous ulceration at the pyloric end of the stomach, and the patient had an intense pain, some little vomiting of blood and occasionally of exceedingly acid fluid, and inability to take any kind of food except about five o’clock in the afternoon, when she would take a little toast and tea; then no more food until the next afternoon at five o’clock. Any departure from that rule was followed at once by intense suffering.

Dr. Lippe being ill, and I having charge of his practice, the lady came to me for treatment. I gave her bichromate of potash [Kali. bich], which relieved her very much. Of course I made a record of the case and left it there in the office, and Doctor Lippe kept up the treatment for seven or eight years longer. During all that time the pain was always kept under. He gave remedies as they were indicated, but always had to come back to bichromate of potash. Finally Doctor Lippe died, and then the patient came to me and asked me to take charge of her, which I did. In the summer following Doctor Lippe’s death, she came to me again and said that she was going to Europe and would I be willing to treat her across the water. The fact is, she was a German lady, and was born in Munich. She wanted to know if I would treat her in Munich, which I of course agreed to do, but I pointed out to her the long delays, especially in the winter season. She said she didn’t care for that but must have that kind of treatment. She had immense suffering in Munich and I prescribed remedies that gave her more or less relief.

Finally on a certain Thursday afternoon at four o’clock there came a letter to my office from her; it was in the winter time, and the letter was two weeks old. The suffering described in that letter was something frightful, and she absolutely refused to have any other treatment, or to have any physician in Munich. It ought to be said of her that she was a strict homoeopathist and understands it. You cannot fool her with sac.lac. [i.e. placebo], and it is not worth while to do it, and she refused to have these physicians because she said they would not give her strictly homoeopathic treatment, and they would not give potencies. She would not have palliative treatment, recognizing that her condition would be infinitely worse. That was her own argument. She wrote this letter to me and I was so distressed by it that, although it was two weeks old, I sat down and studied the case from four o’clock in the afternoon until seven o’clock in the evening. I came to the conclusion that hydrastis was the remedy, and went to the office and telegraphed a cable message, “hydrastis”. It had only the one word, hydrastis, and my signature. She received that the next morning and took it to a pharmacist in Munich, who said that he knew about high potency homoeopaths and knew of me, and he could put up the same kind of medicine. He did give her the thirtieth potency of hydrastis, and it gave immediate relief. She wrote a jubilant letter about the relief. Then came another letter; an eruption had occurred on the right side of the body and was very severe indeed. The agony was something intense—pricking, stinging and itching as she described it. She said “I have been urged to put something upon this to relieve the itching, if nothing more, the ordinary baby powder, and she said I will not do so until I hear from you” I then wrote her a very strong letter protesting against it, and telling her that I feared to prescribe for the eruption, and predicting that if it were left alone it would gradually cease and that she would be free from pain, and true to the prediction, she did get over it. It got less and less—she wrote me every week, and finally it disappeared altogether, and the pain did not return for nine months.

The next I heard of her she was in Paris. Then the pain came again, and she went back to Munich, and I gave her arsenicum album, and later arsenicum rubrum, and then yellow arsenic; the three arsenics: white, red and yellow, following one after the other, as they seemed to be indicated, sending her little vials of the medicine, as I knew that she was perfectly competent to be trusted with the medicine, relieved her absolutely. The eruption showed a disposition to come back ; I warned her against prescribing or putting the slightest thing on it, even soap and water, thinking of a possible repression. The result was that the eruption died away of itself. The next I heard of her she came into my office smiling about a year ago, offered both her hands to me and declared that she was perfectly well. She is now in Philadelphia, and, as far as I know—I have heard of her within a few weeks, she has had no return of it.

Now, this is a case where I think I could have kept her permanently sick if I had prescribed any remedy for that eruption. I don’t know that there is any parallelism between that patient and that of Doctor Case, but it seems to me there is enough to warrant a suggestion at least, that it is at all events a risk to give a prescription for an eruption that comes as a result of a fine homeopathic prescription.

Dr. Allen — I don’t think it ever should be done…

Solzhenitsyn wrote Cancer Ward as a novel, so while we can’t regard the herbal cures he mentions – Aconite, Mandragora and chaga – as fact, the story is also strongly autobiographical, according to himself, so should be taken seriously. The problem of the identity of the “Root of Issyk-Kul” remains a little confusing.

Solzhenitsyn had been extremely ill; he explains the gravity of his situation:

…In 1950 I was transferred to the then newly created special camps for political prisoners only. In such a camp in Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) I worked as a laborer, bricklayer, and smelter. There I developed a cancerous tumor, operated on but not cured (its nature was recognized only later).

From March 1953 (on March 5, the day Stalin’s death was announced, I was for the first time let out on the street without guards) to June 1956, I served this exile. Here the cancer rapidly developed, and at the end of 1953 I was on the verge of death, unable to eat or sleep and infected by the tumor’s poisons. Released to go to Tashkent for treatment, however, during 1954 in the cancer clinic there I was cured (Cancer Ward, The Right Hand).

Solzhenitsyn tells us in Cancer Ward his cancer was cured, but it’s a big step to conclude medical treatment alone, at the time, was the reason. Whatever way one views Solzhenitsyn’s story of his cancer, and the role of the herbal remedies, it tells of a far better outcome than modern medicine can guarantee today.


Image credits
Chaga photo:Tomas Čekanavičius via Wikipedia
Solzhenitsyn in Exile, The Solzhenitsyn Center
Aconitum napellus: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, via Wikipedia
Mandragora fruits: Wikipedia
Hydrastis can: Wikipedia

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  1. According to biographer DM Thomas: in 1952 Solzhenitsyn developed a tumour in the groin which was a Seminoma (testicular tumour). This was removed in the prison hospital. He was released from prison in February 1953.
    Around August 1953 he developed a very large abdominal tumour which may have been a recurrence of the previous growth. He was very ill and was referred to a hospital in Tashkent. Instead of going there, he took off illegally into the mountains to a village called Issy Kul and purchased mandrake root, from an old man who advised him to build up the dose drop by drop over 10 days , then decrease, wait 10 days and repeat the procedure.
    He subsequently went to Tashkent and had “massive doses ” of radiation in January 1954. By March his tumour had shrunk to half size. He went back to Issyk Kul and repeated the mandrake treatment. That seems to be the end of the cancer.
    It was while he was in the prison hospital for the first surgery that he met a Doctor Kornfield who spoke to him one evening about Christianity and the spiritual life. The night of that discussion , Dr Kornfield was murdered.
    This event may have significantly influenced Solzhenitsyn’s future spiritual development.

    • Hello John, thanks for this clarification. Dr. Vincent T. DeVita Jr.,an American oncologist and professor of medical oncology and chronic diseases at Yale Medical School, recounts a first-hand account which corroborates your nice summary (
      Coincidentally, I’ve just borrowed Cancer Ward from our local library but obviously it doesn’t give the details the biographies provide.
      Mandrake isn’t well known in homeopathy but it must have some affinity for cancer if it helped and found its way into traditional use for cancer.
      Some herbs can be pretty powerful, although I don’t have much time for them therapeutically. Take a look at these wonderful cases from the RCSI in the late 20th century and Dr Green of Ennis!

      Thanks again

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