Moxibustion, or Moxa, is an amazing, versatile tool that we use in the acupuncture clinic. It is used to treat a variety of ailments, from digestion problems to bruising and joint pain.
The translation of the Chinese character for Acupuncture actually means “acupuncture-moxibustion.” Moxibustion is a traditional technique in which the herb mugwort, or artemisia vulgaris, is burned on or close to the patient’s skin. Mugwort is a weed and can be found growing in many places, including our backyard here in Philadelphia. In China, it plays a special role in the Tomb Sweeping Festival, where it is eaten in dumplings, and the Dragon Boat Festival where it is hung to purify the air.
The process of preparing the mugwort for moxibustion is very involved. It should be harvested during a specific time in the summer, then dried dried in the sun and in the shade, then crushed so all the unnecessary parts of the plant are removed, then ground and sieved so that only the fluffy stuff on the bottom of the leaves remains. After all that, you’re supposed to wait a couple years for it to mellow before use. My husband tried to make it at home once and it was a lot of work.
During treatments, moxa can be applied directly to the skin or used indirectly close to the skin. For direct use, a special ointment called shiunko is used to protect the skin from burning. The placement and type of moxa used depends on what condition is being treated. For example:
Small threads of moxa burned directly on the skin don’t add too much heat but are great for increasing energy and treating scars and injuries like sprains and bone fractures.
Cones of moxa placed on substances such as garlic, ginger, orange peel, salt, and aconite may add warmth to the body. Your practitioner will decide which substance to use based on its properties. This application has a wide range of uses such as digestion problems, menstrual cramps, back pain, joint pain, warts, and improving circulation. Salt moxa on the belly is a wonderful treat in the wintertime.
Tiger warmers (pictured below) and moxa sticks can be used when warmth needs to be added to a large area of the body. These are sometimes used in general treatments but also at very specific times, such as when a woman is in labor.
Needle top moxa allows the body to receive heat at a specific acupuncture point. This is very effective for healing and relieving muscle aches and pains.
Are you interested in trying moxa? If you have questions about how a treatment with moxa might benefit you, contact me!