Moxibustion: Herbalism of the Exterior - Root + Bones

Moxibustion: Herbalism of the Exterior

As a comprehensive system of integrative medicine, TCM aims to cultivate healing through wholeness—whether by harmonizing polar forces like Yin and Yang or by helping the body align with its environment. As such, it contains a wide variety of internal and external treatment principles, and it’s understood that both are equally important in the holistic optimization of health. Indeed, nutrition and herbal medicine are complementary to externally oriented treatments like cupping, acupuncture, and moxibustion. Of course, exterior treatments penetrate to the interior and healing cultivated internally radiates outward. 


Moxibustion is a heat-activated therapy that integrates herbs, fire, and the meridian points to promote healing. It enhances the flow of Qi, stimulates the body’s innate healing mechanisms, relieves pain, and enhances overall vitality. Moxibustion can be administered via an herbal cone that resembles incense being placed directly on the skin or attached to the end of an acupuncture needle—in both cases, the other end is ignited, offering a more direct and targeted application. Alternatively, for a gentler application, the herbal matter can be rolled tightly in rice paper to form a tube that resembles a lit cigar held over the skin. The heat helps the herbs radiate through the skin to affect healing into the meridian points to which it’s applied.


Like most TCM modalities, moxibustion has extremely far-reaching health benefits and seemingly limitless applications depending on the meridian points utilized. There are over 800 of these vital energy points located along pathways called meridian channels that correspond to the organs and systems of the body. Moxibustion can be profoundly helpful for a variety of ailments, including mumps, arthritis and rheumatism, numbness of the musculature, headaches or migraines, digestive issues—including IBS, gynecological disorders, respiratory issues, and pain syndromes—including neuropathy. 


Although a variety of herbs can be utilized in moxibustion for specific purposes, the most common is Artemisia vulgaris, or Mugwort. This herb is known for dispelling cold and dampness—two of the external pathogenic forces that can invade the body and disrupt its balance. It is also a time-honored choice for reproductive support, known to help regulate the menstrual cycle, quell excess bleeding, and alleviate cramps. With an affinity to the uterus, it’s even indicated and widely enlisted to help turn breech babies during pregnancy. This renowned moxibustion herb is also particularly effective in conditions related to stagnant or blocked Qi and Blood. The abundant and unobstructed flow of these foundational substances is crucial to vibrant health in TCM, supporting digestive health, emotional balance, immunity, reproductive health, and so much more. 


Moxibustion is a tremendously enhancing complementary therapy of acupuncture, however it can be an even more accessible way to become intimate with Chinese medicine. While the direct forms of moxibustion should only be administered by a practitioner of TCM, many people benefit from the self-application of the gentler method at home. Moxa sticks are widely available for purchase and there are tutorials online for administering this treatment on oneself. Although we love to share tonic herbalism with you, it’s one part of a deeply rich tradition that includes a variety of herbal medicinal applications and other synergistic therapies. Cheers to wholeness!