Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy using moxa, or
mugwort herb. It plays an important role in the traditional medical
systems of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, and Mongolia. Suppliers
usually age the mugwort and grind it up to a fluff; practitioners burn
the fluff or process it further into a stick that resembles a (non-smokable)
cigar. They can use it indirectly, with acupuncture needles, or
sometimes burn it on a patient's skin.
Theory and practice
Practitioners use moxa to warm regions and acupuncture points with the
intention of stimulating circulation through the points and inducing a
smoother flow of blood and qi. It is believed by some, for example at
Mugwort (Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine by Clare Hanrahan), that
mugwort acts as an emmenagogue, meaning that it stimulates blood-flow in
the pelvic area and uterus. It is claimed that moxibustion militates
against cold and dampness in the body and can serve to turn breech
Medical historians believe that moxibustion pre-dated acupuncture, and
needling came to supplement moxa after the 2nd century BC. Different
schools of acupuncture use moxa in varying degrees. For example, a
5-elements acupuncturist will use moxa directly on the skin, whilst a
TCM-style practitioner will use rolls of moxa and hold them over the
point treated. It can also be burnt atop a fine slice of ginger root to
prevent scarring.
Practitioners consider moxibustion to be especially effective in the
treatment of chronic problems, "deficient conditions" (weakness), and
gerontology. Bian Que (fl. circa 500 BC), one of the most famous
semi-legendary doctors of Chinese antiquity and the first specialist in
moxibustion, discussed the benefits of moxa over acupuncture in his
classic work. He asserted that moxa could add new energy to the body and
could treat both excess and deficient conditions. On the other hand, he
advised against the use of acupuncture in an already deficient (weak)
patient, on the grounds that needle manipulation would leak too much
A huge classical work, Gao Huang Shu, specialises solely in treatment
indications for moxa on a single point.
Note that Taoists use scarring moxibustion along with Chinese medical
astrology for longevity.
Practitioners may use acupuncture needles made of various materials in
combination with moxa, depending on the direction of qi flow they wish
The overwhelming majority of these claims are poorly supported or
entirely unsubstantiated by clinical, anatomic, or other basic science
evidence. Meta-analysis of the current evidence regarding moxibustion in
treatment for ulcerative colitis concluded that evidence is insufficient
to show that moxibustion is an effective treatment.
Parallel uses of mugwort
In many religions of North and South America that pre-date European
colonization, mugwort is regarded as a sacred plant of divination and
spiritual healing, as well as a panacea. Mugwort amongst other herbs
were often bound into smudge sticks. Europeans placed sprigs of mugwort
under pillows to provoke dreams; and the herb had associations with the
practice of magic in Anglo-Saxon times.