Artemisia princeps (mugwort) is a plant that grows along roadsides and in waste places. This common weed has remarkable medicinal properties that have been used in China and Japan alongside acupuncture for many centuries. Mugwort leaves are whitish underneath due to many tiny hairs, which contain aromatic oils. Using traditional methods, the leaves are dried and ground up to produce a yellowish-brown fluffy substance called moxa, that can easily be moulded into different shapes.
When moxa is burnt it smoulders to release heat and aromatic oils – this process is called “moxibustion” and is done close to or directly on the skin to provide various therapeutic effects. An inserted acupuncture needle can be warmed up by fixing a small ball of moxa to its handle. The heat from the burning moxa passes down the needle to warm up the deep tissues, giving a gentle penetrating warmth, similar to an infra red lamp. This provides relief for conditions such as back pain and sciatica and is soothing and relaxing for coldness or tense muscles.
Moxa can also be burnt directly on the skin. Medical research in Japan has shown that tiny amounts of stimulation caused by burning moxa can have immediate beneficial effects on the blood and immune system. Toyohari acupuncturists use a very gentle approach in which very small pieces of moxa, about the size of a half rice grain, are placed on the skin and burn down to a fine point. This is usually experienced as pleasant and comforting. Applied regularly at appropriate places on the body, it can be very beneficial for the circulation and general health and can relieve painful conditions like arthritis. In the days before antibiotics it was used in Japan to treat patients with difficult illnesses such as TB.
Direct moxibustion was developed in Japan as a home therapy, since it is most effective when repeated every day. Your practitioner may teach you how to use moxa so that you can apply it yourself between visits to the clinic.