Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), also known as wormwood, is a member of the daisy family and is primarily found in Europe and Asia.
If you have any sort of green thumb, you may know the mugwort plant as a weed whose pollen is known for causing hay fever and allergic asthma, or as a natural insecticide.1
If you are a beer aficionado or a home brewer, you probably know that mugwort can be used in the brewing process to add a bitter flavor to beer. If you are a student of ancient history, you may also know that mugwort was thought to protect against evil spirits, which was why it was often planted around houses to protect the occupants.1
However, if you have any experience working with acupuncture or Chinese herbs, you should be well aware of the true value of mugwort in terms of its healing properties. What are some of its benefits, and how can it be used to help your patients?
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Mugwort (known as ai ye in Chinese herbal terminology) can be found in many forms, including dried leaves, extracts, tinctures, teas and pills. However, mugwort is best known within acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine as the basis for a treatment modality known as moxibustion.2
In this technique the mugwort leaves are formed into sticks or cones that are about the same size and shape as a cigar. They are then burned on (direct moxibustion), or over (indirect moxibustion) an acupuncture point on the body to help release energy.
The smoke from burning mugwort can also be used as a treatment. It is thought to help a wide range of conditions, including urinary, musculoskeletal, and inflammatory issues, among others.2
Research on benefits of moxibustion treatment
A 2011 article in the journal Chinese Medicine examined the effects of moxibustion treatment on changes in heart rate and heart rate variability among a group of 24 healthy subjects who received moxa smoke treatment.3 Heart rate and heart rate variability were measured during and after smoke inhalation treatment.
The subjects showed significant reductions in their heart rate and changes in heart rate variability following moxa smoke treatment.3 The researchers concluded that moxa smoke can improve functioning of the autonomic nervous system, as well as improve mood.
Moxibustion has also been shown to help with obstetric issues, including preventing breech births by helping the fetus move into the proper position for delivery. A 2012 meta-analysis article in Cochrane Database Systematic Review examined the effectiveness and safety profile for moxibustion in helping to change the fetal position to prevent breech birth presentation.4
A meta-analysis is designed to pool together the results from a number of smaller studies to look for patterns and similarities among the findings. This can actually strengthen the quality of the results if most or all of the papers reach the same conclusion.
In the case of this meta-analysis, moxibustion was found to reduce the need for oxytocin, a powerful drug to induce or strengthen labor contractions that can cause fetal distress.4 If the moxibustion treatment is combined with acupuncture, it can reduce the chances of a cesarean section.
Finally, if moxibustion is combined with changes in posture, the chances of a breech delivery may also be reduced.4
Like many other medicinal herbs, mugwort can seem unassuming, or even somewhat of a nuisance weed. The truth is that it packs a very large wellness punch into a very small package.
1 Mugwort. Wikipedia. Updated Sept. 2018. Accessed Aug. 21, 2018.
2 Deng H, Shen X. The Mechanism of Moxibustion: Ancient Theory and Modern Research. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 379291.
3 Zhao B, Litscher G, Li J, et al. Effects of moxa (Artemisia vulgaris) smoke inhalation on heart rate and its variability. Chinese Medicine. 2011 June 2:53-57. http://file.scirp.org/pdf/CM20110200001_38765903.pdf.
4 Coyle ME, Smith CA, Peat B. Cephalic version by moxibustion for breech presentation. Cochrane Database Systematic Review. 2012;(5):CD003928.