The term for ‘Acupuncture’ in Chinese is Zhenjiu. Zhen is ‘needle’ and Jiu is ‘moxibustion’. Moxibustion or moxa is the often forgotten, ‘poor relation’ to acupuncture. However, its history predates the use of needles and it has powerful therapeutic effects.
Moxa uses the refined product of the selectively picked leaves of the mugwort plant which are smouldered over key points on the skin in specific ways. This plant found in temperate zones of the northern hemisphere is generally classified as a weed, although it still has a reputation for its more esoteric properties in many traditional cultures. It is only in East Asia, however, that it has been used therapeutically by being burnt over the skin.
Moxa was first referred to in Chinese literature by some of the famous Chinese philosophers. Its early use in China actually provided the seminal theoretical inspiration for meridian-focused holistic acupuncture two thousand years ago.
20th century Japanese research into responses to direct moxibustion provide positive indicators of whole body responses particularly in respect of changes in blood chemistry, in immune response and relating to effects within the autonomic nervous system. Early in the 20th century, it was being successfully used to treat Tuberculosis (TB) and as a tool to counter outbreaks of cholera.
Research also suggest that Moxa can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flushes experienced in menopause or as a result of cancer treatment such as chemotherapy.(1)
Jenny Craig and Merlin Young (2) (fellow Toyohari UK acupuncturists) investigated the record of its use in the 1930s in Japan to treat TB before the advent of antibiotics. They set up a charity, Moxafrica, to systematically investigate the possibility that moxa may play a significant role in treating TB in the developing world where drugs and appropriate diagnosis are so scarce.
Their first Ugandan study found that patients using Moxa responded faster and better to their treatment than those who have only first line drugs. A second study was conducted by the North Korean government based on the findings from Uganda. Using higher doses of moxa on patients with multi drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), results showed that 85% of their Moxa patients recovered successfully from MDR-TB compared to 60% using only drugs.(3)
1. Park JE et al, Moxibustion for treating menopausal hot flashes: a randomized clinical trial
2. Young M, The Moon over Matsushima - Insights into Moxa and Mugwort