Researchers hope to test dandelion tea on patients at a Windsor, Ont., clinic after it was found the roots of the weed killed cancer cells in the laboratory.

The promising research is being led by a University of Windsor oncologist, in association with the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre.

Dr. Caroline Hamm said dandelion root extract is unique, and is one of the only things found to help with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.

Chronic lyelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) is a type of cancer that starts in blood-forming cells of the bone marrow and involves the blood.

Sources: American Cancer Society; Dr. Carolyn Hamm, Windsor Regional Cancer Centre

"It was really unusual to find a product that had efficacy in that area," said Hamm.

Some patients swear by it

John DiCarlo, 72, was admitted to hospital three years ago with leukemia. Even after aggressive treatment, he was sent home to put his affairs in order with his wife and four children.

The cancer clinic suggested he try the tea. Four months later, he returned to the clinic in remission. He has been cancer free for three years.

He said his doctor credits the dandelions.

"He said, 'You are doing pretty good, you aren't a sick man anymore'," DiCarlo told CBC News.

Talk to your doctor

The roots of the common dandelion were ground up and made into tea. According to researchers, early results show that the tea kills cancer cells in the lab.

Using dandelion tea extract to treat leukemia is not a new idea. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in the U.S., among other research sites, has been looking at the plant since at least 2010.

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John DiCarlo, 72, says dandelion tea saved his life, after other medical treatments for his leukemia failed. (Steven Bull/CBC)

Hamm said the tea doesn't work for everyone and they need to find out why. The first phase of the trials will attempt to determine the right dose to administer.

Hamm was convinced that the weed contains an active ingredient, but warned "it can harm as well as benefit." She said taking dandelion extract tea could interfere with regular chemotherapy, and she urged patients not to mix the natural remedy with other cancer drugs without speaking to a doctor first.

The researchers have filed an application with Health Canada. If it's approved, Hamm expected to start the first phase of the trials in about two to three months.

Phase 1 involves 21 cancer patients where the standard of care is not working. Hamm said it would include patients with a wide variety of cancer types. The first phase should last six to eight months, she said.

Phase 2 will look at which types of cancer dandelion extract works best on, based on the results of Phase 1.