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Moxibustion by Li Tang.jpg
Moxibustion by Li Tang, Song dynasty
MeSH D009071
Moxibustion in Michael Bernhard Valentini's Museum Museorum (Frankfurt am Main, 1714)
Samples of Japanese Moxa. Left to right: processed mugwort (1st stage); processed mugwort (2nd stage); coarse Moxa for indirect moxibustion; usual quality for indirect and direct moxibustion; superior quality for direct moxibustion.
Traditional moxibustion set from Ibuki (Japan)
Stick–on moxa (left) and moxa rolls (right) used for indirect moxa heat treatment. The stick-on moxa is a modern product sold in Japan, Korea, and China. Usually the base is self-adhesive to the treatment point.
First page of Hara Shimetarō: Effects of Moxa on hemoglobin and RBC count. Iji Shinbun, no 1219, 10 Sept. 1927. (Summary in Esperanto)

Moxibustion (Chinese: ; pinyin: jiǔ) is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy using moxa made from dried mugwort (Artemisia argyi). Available scientific evidence does not support claims that moxibustion is effective in preventing or treating cancer or any other disease,[1] but it plays an important role in the traditional medical systems of China (including Tibet), Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia. Suppliers usually age the mugwort and grind it up to a fluff; practitioners burn the fluff or process it further into a cigar-shaped stick. They can use it indirectly, with acupuncture needles, or burn it on the patient's skin.


The first Western remarks on moxibustion can be found in letters and reports written by Portuguese missionaries in 16th-century Japan. They called it “botão de fogo” (fire button), a term originally used for round-headed Western cautery irons. Hermann Buschoff who published the first Western book on this matter in 1674 (English edition 1676) used the Japanese word mogusa. As the u is not very strongly enunciated, he spelled it “Moxa”. Later authors blended “Moxa” with the Latin word combustio (burning).[2][3]

The name of the herb Artemisia (mugwort) species used to produce Moxa is yomogi (蓬) in Japan and ài or àicǎo (, 艾草) in Chinese.[4]

The Chinese names for moxibustion are jiǔ ( ) or jiǔshù ( 灸術), Japanese use the same characters and pronounce as kyū and kyūjutsu. In Korean the reading is tteum (뜸). Korean folklore attributes the development of moxibustion to the legendary emperor Dangun.[5]

Theory and practice[edit]

Practitioners use moxa to warm regions and meridian points[6] with the intention of stimulating circulation through the points and inducing a smoother flow of blood and qi. Some believe it can treat conditions associated with the "cold" or "yang deficiencies" in Chinese Medicine.[7] It is claimed that moxibustion militates against cold and dampness in the body, and can serve to turn breech babies.[8]

Practitioners claim moxibustion to be especially effective in the treatment of chronic problems, "deficient conditions" (weakness), and gerontology. Bian Que (fl. circa 500 BCE), one of the most famous semi-legendary doctors of Chinese antiquity and the first specialist in moxibustion, discussed the benefits of moxa over acupuncture in his classic work Bian Que Neijing. He asserted that moxa could add new energy to the body and could treat both excess and deficient conditions.

Practitioners may use acupuncture needles made of various materials in combination with moxa, depending on the direction of qi flow they wish to stimulate.

There are several methods of moxibustion. Three of them are direct scarring, direct non-scarring, and indirect moxibustion. Direct scarring moxibustion places a small cone of moxa on the skin at an acupuncture point and burns it until the skin blisters, which then scars after it heals.[9] Direct non-scarring moxibustion removes the burning moxa before the skin burns enough to scar, unless the burning moxa is left on the skin too long.[9] Indirect moxibustion holds a cigar made of moxa near the acupuncture point to heat the skin, or holds it on an acupuncture needle inserted in the skin to heat the needle.[9] There is also stick-on moxa.

Medical research[edit]

The first modern scientific publication on moxibustion was written by the Japanese physician Hara Shimetarō who conducted intensive research about the hematological effects of moxibustion in 1927. Two years later his doctoral dissertation on that matter was accepted by the Medical Faculty of the Kyūshū Imperial University.[10] Hara's last publication appeared in 1981.[11]

Randomized controlled trials have found that moxibustion alone, in combination with acupuncture, or in combination with external cephalic version may be effective at changing breech presentation of babies. The proposed mechanism of action is that moxibustion causes the release of placental estrogen and prostaglandins, which lead to uterine contractions that change the baby's position. A Cochrane Review of these studies found that they differed too greatly to perform a meta-analysis and called for more experimental trials.[12]

Moxibustion has also been studied for the treatment of pain,[13] cancer,[14] stroke,[15] ulcerative colitis,[16] constipation,[17] and hypertension.[18] Systematic reviews have found that these studies are of low quality and positive findings could be due to a publication bias.[19] According to the American Cancer Society, "available scientific evidence does not support claims that moxibustion is effective in preventing or treating cancer or any other disease".[1]

Parallel uses of mugwort[edit]

Mugwort amongst other herbs was often bound into smudge sticks. The Chumash people from southern California have a similar ritual.[20] Europeans placed sprigs of mugwort under pillows to provoke dreams; and the herb had associations with the practice of magic in Anglo-Saxon times.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Moxibustion". American Cancer Society. 8 March 2011. Retrieved August 2013. 
  2. ^ Wolfgang Michel (2005). "Far Eastern Medicine in Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Century Germany". Gengo bunka ronkyū 言語文化論究 (Kyushu University, Faculty of Languages and Cultures) 20: 67–82. ISSN 1341-0032. 
  3. ^ Li Zhaoguo (2013). "English Translation of Traditional Chinese Medicine: Theory and Practice". 上海三联书店. p. 11. ISBN 978-7-5426-4084-0. 
  4. ^ There is a great variety of further Chinese names (bingtai 冰台ecao 遏草xiang'ai 香艾qiai 蕲艾aihao 艾蒿jiucao 灸草yicao 医草huangcao 黄草airong 艾绒)
  5. ^ Needham, J; Lu GD (2002). Celestial lancets: a history and rationale of acupuncture and moxa. Routledge. pp. 262. ISBN 0-7007-1458-8. 
  6. ^ Not all acupuncture points can be used for moxibustion. A few of them are preferred in both classical literature and modern research: Zusanli (ST-36), Dazhui (GV-14).
  7. ^[full citation needed]
  8. ^ American Journal of Chinese Medicine, Winter, 2001, Yoichi Kanakura, et al.; also see Cochrane Library
  9. ^ a b c "Moxibustion, Acupuncture Today". Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  10. ^ English summary of S. Hara’s findings
  11. ^ Watanabe, Shinichiro; Hakata, Hiroshi; Matsuo, Takashi; Hara, Hiroshi; Hara, Shimetaro (1981). "Effects of Electronic Moxibustion on Immune Response I". Zen Nihon Shinkyu Gakkai zasshi 31 (1): 42–50. doi:10.3777/jjsam.31.42. 
  12. ^ Coyle, M. E.; Smith, C. A.; Peat, B (2012). "Cephalic version by moxibustion for breech presentation". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 5: CD003928. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003928.pub3. PMID 22592693. 
  13. ^ Lee, Myeong Soo; Choi, Tae-Young; Kang, Jung Won; Lee, Beom-Joon; Ernst, Edzard (2010). "Moxibustion for Treating Pain: A Systematic Review". The American Journal of Chinese Medicine 38 (5): 829. doi:10.1142/S0192415X10008275. PMID 20821815. 
  14. ^ Lee, Myeong Soo; Choi, Tae-Young; Park, Ji-Eun; Lee, Song-Shil; Ernst, Edzard (2010). "Moxibustion for cancer care: A systematic review and meta-analysis". BMC Cancer 10: 130. doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-130. PMC 2873382. PMID 20374659. 
  15. ^ Lee, M. S.; Shin, B.-C.; Kim, J.-I.; Han, C.-h.; Ernst, E. (2010). "Moxibustion for Stroke Rehabilitation: Systematic Review". Stroke 41 (4): 817. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.109.566851. PMID 20150551. 
  16. ^ Lee, Dong-Hyo; Kim, Jong-In; Lee, Myeong Soo; Choi, Tae-Young; Choi, Sun-Mi; Ernst, Edzard (2010). "Moxibustion for ulcerative colitis: A systematic review and meta-analysis". BMC Gastroenterology 10: 36. doi:10.1186/1471-230X-10-36. PMC 2864201. PMID 20374658. 
  17. ^ Lee, Myeong Soo; Choi, Tae-Young; Park, Ji-Eun; Ernst, Edzard (2010). "Effects of moxibustion for constipation treatment: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials". Chinese Medicine 5: 28. doi:10.1186/1749-8546-5-28. PMC 2922210. PMID 20687948. 
  18. ^ Kim, Jong-In; Choi, Jun-Yong; Lee, Hyangsook; Lee, Myeong Soo; Ernst, Edzard (2010). "Moxibustion for hypertension: A systematic review". BMC Cardiovascular Disorders 10: 33. doi:10.1186/1471-2261-10-33. PMC 2912786. PMID 20602794. 
  19. ^ Lee, Myeong Soo; Kang, Jung Won; Ernst, Edzard (2010). "Does moxibustion work? An overview of systematic reviews". BMC Research Notes 3: 284. doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-284. PMC 2987875. PMID 21054851. 
  20. ^ Timbrook, Janice (2007). Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge among the Chumash People of Southern California. ISBN 978-1-59714-048-5. [page needed]

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