Mugwort, Artemis vulgaris, is an herb that has been imbued with magic and charm for many cultures. Named for the ancient moon goddess, Artemis, goddess of the hunt, fertility, and the forests and hills. Roman soldiers were known to put mugwort in their sandals to keep their feet from getting tired. Native Americans equate mugwort with witchcraft. They believed that rubbing leaves on the body kept ghosts away. Others believed that mugwort held special dreaming powers. Stuffing a pillow with the herb encouraged lucid and prophetic dreaming. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses mugwort in a therapeutic warming treatment called: moxibustion.
What is moxibustion?
Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy consisting of burning dried mugwort just above particular points on the body. The purpose of this therapy is to strengthen overall energy and immunity. This is done by burning the herb over an acu-point and along meridians, or by placing the burning herb on top of an acupuncture needle inserted into the acu-point. The heat penetrates deeply, warming the body and causing capillaries to dilate, thus increasing the blood and lymph circulations in the entire body, and improving blood and lymph circulation. The deep warmth loosens cold trapped in the body, and relieves pains associated with stiff joints and muscles. Because mugwort is considered an emmenagogue, a substance that stimulates or increases menstrual blood flow, it makes a great natural therapy for cramps or irregular periods, or for warming and preparing a uterus for pregnancy.
Who should consider moxibustion therapy?
Warming the meridians of the body increases a smooth flow of qi and blood. Therefore, those who need to expel cold stagnation and tonify their energy are well treated by moxibustion.
In Western terms, moxibustion is a good therapy for those who have:
- oversensitivity to cold or poor circulation
- hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s
- diarrhea or sluggish digestion and wish to strengthen digestion
- low immunity or wish to strengthen their immunity
- cold and flu
- muscle or joint pain (arthritis)*
- back pain
- low energy or depression
- infertility or IVF preparation
- dysmenorrhea (painful periods) or amenorrhea (absence of regular periods)
- breeched baby position**
Who should avoid moxibustion therapy?
Moxibustion is not for everyone. It is meant for patients who have cold symptoms and should, therefore, not be used on those who have heat conditions (such as those who generally tend to run warm) or those who have asthma or sensitivity to smoke.
What to expect during Moxibustion therapy?
Moxibustion can be added to an acupuncture treatment or done on its own.The patient will be positioned on the acupuncture table so that the practitioner can access the correct acu-points. (Common points are below your knees, your belly button, and local areas of muscle or joint pain. There are more specialized uses of moxibustion as well; for example it is done over the little toe to reposition a breeched baby.) Next, the moxa will be lit and held over the points until you feel a deeply warming and relaxing sensation. Symptoms should begin to immediately decrease and, with time, dissipate altogether.
*Recent studies have shown that the method of RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) actually delays healing of injured areas. Healing occurs when fresh blood and nutrients are brought to the injured area. Heat increases this blood flow and so moxa is a great therapy for muscle and arthritic aches.
**A landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 found that up to 75% of women suffering from breech presentations before childbirth had fetuses that rotated to the normal position after receiving moxibustion at an acupuncture point on the Bladder meridian. 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. http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/abc/moxibustion.php
Hongyong Deng and Xueyong Shen, “The Mechanism of Moxibustion: Ancient Theory and Modern Research” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3789413/