The wonderful world of moxibustion

Moxa cones

Moxibustion is a treatment I use in my clinic alongside acupuncture almost every day. The two absolutely go hand in hand. So here’s the lowdown on what it’s about.

What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion involves the burning of a herb called moxa, which is part of the mugwort plant.

What’s it used for?

The main functions of moxa in acupuncture treatment are to nourish and to warm. Examples of when I might use moxa are: feelings of fatigue and cold; stiff and painful joints; recovery from illness or after giving birth.

What does it look like?

Moxa comes in three main forms: a cotton wool-like ‘punk’, which is squeezed into little cone shapes; a stick, which is a roll of compressed moxa that looks like a Winston Churchill cigar; or a short roll, which can be used to burn on an acupuncture needle.

How is it used?


These tiny cones are placed on acupuncture point locations on the skin and secured there with a dab of water. A thin taper is used to light the cone so it smoulders down almost to the skin. The cone is then removed and popped into a dish of water. More often than not, after it has been cleaned off with an alcohol swab, the point will then be needled.

Interesting fact: moxa cones are traditionally used in odd numbers.


These chaps are lit so that they smoulder and are then held over acupuncture points or moved up and down an affected channel. They can also be held close to a needle to ensure the heat penetrates deeper into the tissue.

Moxa rolls on needles

Now this one’s fun. For maximum effect, a moxa roll is carefully pushed over the handle of an inserted needle and set smouldering. The needle and the smouldering moxa are then removed with forceps as one unit and extinguished in water. Don’t worry, a circular cardboard protector covers the skin at the base of the needle (though not in this photograph).

It is never the purpose of moxibustion to burn you, and strict procedures are in place to ensure that doesn’t happen.

So that’s moxibustion: warming and nourishing like a lovely stew and an important adjunct therapy to acupuncture.

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