The Healing Power of Moxa

As you walk into any acupuncture clinic you often notice the familiar smoky odor of moxa. Some people love it, others do not. New patients usually ask “What’s that strange smell?”

Moxibustion is a method of heating specific acupuncture points on the body by burning an herb material close to the skin. This technique can be used alone or in combination with acupuncture – the Chinese character for acupuncture literally means “acupuncture-moxibustion.”

What is moxa made of?

The herb material used is mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris, Ai Ye) an invasive weed, which grows in many climates, including Western North Carolina. Mugwort has a long history of use in folk medicine. It is believed that the Romans planted mugwort by roadsides to make it available to travelers to put in their shoes to relieve aching feet and protect them from exhaustion. Maybe this is because of its ability to enhance the movement of qi and blood.

Mugwort gets its botanical name from the Greek moon goddess Artemis, a patron of women, and is a wonderful herb for gynecological conditions. In Chinese Herbal Medicine it is used to treat heavy menstrual bleeding and uterine bleeding and to increase blood circulation to the pelvic area to treat menstrual pain. Moxibustion (applying heat near the skin) has successfully been used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth.

Any type of heat applied to the body can increase the flow of qi and blood. Heat lamps, heating pads, or warming liniments can give a similar effect to moxibustion. But the heat combined with the powerful healing properties of mugwort gives moxibustion a proven advantage.

Mugwort is used because of its acrid, spicy odor which makes it able to travel through all of the meridians, regulate qi and blood, and expel cold. One of mugwort’s active components, borneol, is commonly used in topical therapies for its analgesic effects. Other explanations for the use of mugwort, as opposed to some other herb material, is that it grows easily in many places, is inexpensive, and burns slowly.

What is moxibustion used for?

Moxibustion can be used to prevent diseases and maintain health as part of tonification treatments to help strengthen the organs and immune system. It warms the meridians and expel cold. It can be used to promote circulation over areas of chronic pain or muscle tension. It is especially used for pain that is worse with exposure to cold or damp weather, as with some types of arthritis pain. When applied to acupuncture points that strengthen and lift the qi, moxibustion can boost the immune system and help with fatigue, digestive issues, and much more.

There are many uses for moxa but there are some instances where it should be avoided. Talk to your Chinese Medicine practitioner to see if mugwort is right for you.

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