Mugwort is not the only type of "moxibustion" used; there has been a resurgence of Heavenly Moxibustion in recent years - a practice dating back to the Qing Dynasty that has become the subject of a number of clinical trials. Instead of mugwort, the treatment uses herbs ground into a powder, mixed with fresh ginger juice into a paste, and taped to points to treat asthma, lung disorders, and allergies which affect the upper respiratory system. The treatment is traditionally done on specific days in summer according to the Chinese calendar and Daoist astrology- hence the name "heavenly" since it is in part based on where we are in the heavens at that time of year.
San Fu is sometimes translated as the "three hidings" since it references three 10-day periods that are predicted to be the hottest days of the year - or what we sometimes call in English "the dog days of summer". The treatment is given on the first day of each Fu period; so the patient comes in once every 10 days to have the paste taped to points mostly located either on their back or lower legs. Traditional Chinese hospitals are known to have lines out the doors on the Fu days with patients waiting for hours to have their points taped.
What's interesting to note in clinical studies is that they tested the effectiveness of the treatment regimen on the San Fu days against regular days in the calendar. The treatment was more effective on the noted dates in the calendar! The recommendation that came out of the studies suggested that if the strict regime was too difficult, to stick as close to the dates as possible and at a minimum try to ensure the treatment was done in summer.
2019: July 12, July 22, August 1, August 11
2020: July 16, July 26, August 5, August 15
2021: July 11, July 21, July 31, August 10
2022: July 16, July 26, August 5, August 15
First Fu Day: Ding Chuan, UB 12, UB 13 / Diffuses lung, calms panting
Second Fu Day: Du 14, UB 14, UB 20 / Fortifies spleen, transforms phlegm
Third Fu Day: UB 11, UB 23, UB 43 / Supplements kidneys to absorb Qi
Dazhui (DU14), Feishu (UB13), Tiantu (REN22), Danzhong (REN17), Zhongfu (LU1) and Shenshu (UB23)
Everyone reacts differently to the San Fu application and it can be hard to gauge exactly what your body will do until you try it. Common reactions include:
The color, size, appearance and location of the blisters will vary - sometimes only a few of the points will blister while other points that were applied at the same time will appear seemingly unaffected. The skin may also start to darken and create a thin scab like covering which will eventually fall off to expose healed pink "baby" skin underneath.
It was an article in The Journal of Chinese Medicine written by Dr. Lorraine Wilcox that led to my obsession with San Fu Moxibustion. Her book, Moxibustion: A Clinical Handbook, is the singularly best book on moxibustion written in English to date. Dr. Wilcox includes an entire section on San Fu that deep dives into studies, different herbal San Fu formulas, point protocols, future San Fu dates, and overall theory. Both the article and her book are written for practitioners and students of Chinese Medicine; I encourage anyone interested in offering this to patients in their own private practice to procure both the original article and her book.