What is Moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese Medicine technique that involves the burning of mugwort, also known as Artemisia Vulgaris Latiflora, a small, spongy herb, to facilitate healing. Moxibustion has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years. In fact, the actual Chinese character for acupuncture, literally means “acupuncture-moxibustion”. The purpose of moxibustion, as with most forms of traditional Chinese Medicine, is to strengthen the blood, stimulate the flow of qi, and maintain general health.

What is moxibustion used for?

In traditional Chinese Medicine, moxibustion is used on people who have a cold or stagnant condition. The burning of moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to smoother flow of blood and qi. In western medicine, moxibustion has successfully been used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth. A landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 found that 75% of pregnant women suffering from breech positions had fetuses rotate to the normal position after receiving moxibustion. Other studies have shown that moxibustion increases the movement of the fetus in pregnant women, and may reduce the symptoms of menstrual cramps when used in conjunction with traditional acupuncture.

How does moxibustion work?

There are two types of moxibustion:

  • direct
  • indirect

Direct moxibustion is when a small, cone-shaped amount of moxa is placed on top of an acupuncture point and burned. This type of moxibustion is further categorised into scarring and non-scarring. With scarring moxibustion, the moxa is placed on a point, ignited, and allowed to remain onto the point until it burns out completely. This may lead to localised scarring, blisters and scarring after healing. Personally, I do not use this technique for the obvious reason that I do not want to cause semi permanent scars. With non-scarring moxibustion, the moxa is placed on the point and lit, but is extinguished or removed before it burns the skin. The patient will experience a pleasant heating sensation that penetrates deep into the skin, but should not experience any pain, blistering or scarring unless the moxa is left in place for too long.

Indirect moxibustion is currently the more popular form of care because there is a much lower risk of pain or burning. In indirect moxibustion, a practitioner lights one end of a moxa stick, roughly the shape and size of a cigar, and holds it close to the area being treated for several minutes until the area turns red. Another form of indirect moxibustion uses both acupuncture needles and moxa. A needle is inserted into an acupoint and retained. The tip of the needle is then wrapped in moxa and ignited, generating heat to the point and the surrounding area. After the desired effect is achieved, the moxa is extinguished and the needle(s) removed.

Why do acupuncturists use mugwort?

Mugwort, has a long history of use in folk medicine. Research has shown that it acts as an agent that increases blood circulation to the pelvic area and uterus stimulating menstruation. This could explain its use in treating breech births and menstrual cramps.

It has also shown great results in increasing the immune system in general and specifically in patients going through chemotherapy.

My personal relationship with mugwort

From the moment we were introduced to moxibustion in my first year of acupuncture study, I was hooked. Fascinated by the fact that it grows all around us, I started to distinguish mugwort during walks, both locally and out of London. Since the start of my second year of acupuncture training, I have begun to make my own mugwort. I’ve been collecting it, according to the time of the year, drying and grinding it to mugwort wool. It needs to mature for a year, so since my third year, I have been able to use my moxa in treatments if patients agree.

Treating patients with mugwort gives me a greater understanding of the benefits of the herb, and I also cut a bit of our carbon footprint as I source it locally.