Mugwort Herb (Ai Ye)

Mugwort LeafAs one of commonly seen weeds in China, mugwort herb, also called Ai Ye or moxa, can be taken orally or used externally in Chinese herbal therapy. Externally moxibustion therapies are its distinguishing application; internally it has wider usage, especially for gynecological diseases.

What is mugwort herb?

It is also known as Artemisia Vulgaris in Latin, which is a perennial herb in the composite family. Regularly it can be found along open hillsides, grassy areas, and margin of forests. The best harvesting timing is from May to July when their leaves are in their utmost luxuriance while without blooming yet. And drying in ventilated shade is the way to make them with best medicinal effect.

Mugwort leaves are shrunk and wrinkled with short stalk after drying. The intact one is in oval shape, with pinnate parted in elliptic-lanceolate, irregular margin with coarsely sharply serrate. The upper surface is grayish-green with sparse pubescence and glandular dots; Lower surface is covered with thick whitish pubescence. The preferred one should be with thick leaf, green in color, whitish on lower surface, thick pubescence, and rich aroma.

By the way, it can be consumed now in many forms like tea, powder, pills, and extract, etc.

What is mugwort herb used for?

It is bitter, acrid, and warm in nature. And Liver, Spleen, and Kidney are the three Channels it effectively acts on.

Main clinical usage and indications are spitting blood, nosebleed, menstrual disorders, hemafecia, uterine bleeding, period pain, bleeding during pregnancy, restless fetus, chest and abdomen pain due to cold, diarrhea and prolonged dysentery, abnormal vaginal discharge, eczema, sores and ringworm etc.

Usual dosage is from 3 to 9 grams in decoction.

Popular Chinese herbal formulas

Mugwort leaf is mentioned in two formulas in Shang Han Lun and Jin Gui Yao Lue (The Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and Miscellaneous Illnesses) – one is Bai Ye Tang and the other is Xiong Gui Jiao Ai Tang.

Bai Ye Tang is mainly for vomiting blood due to the middle-burner Qi losing its control over blood. This formula is especially designed for deficiency-cold in middle-Jiao lead to Qi’s failure of controlling blood, thus the blood deviation of from the meridians. Ce Bai Ye (Biota Leaves) in this formula is looking to mitigate the ascending tendency while inducing astringency; Gan Jiang (dried ginger) works to warm the middle Burner, dispel cold, and descend the adverse movement of Qi; In addition to warm the meridians and stop bleeding itself, mugwort herb works together with dried ginger to motivate spleen yang to regulate blood; The juice of Ma Tong is warm and guides the blood downwards in order to stop bleeding.

Mugwort leaf in Xiong Gui Jiao Ai Tang is aimed at warming meridians and womb for the sake of hemostasia. Combining with Sheng Di Huang (Rehmannia) , Chuan Xiong (Szechuan Lovage Root), Shao Yao (Peony Root) and Gan Cao (Licorice Root), this formula tunes the meridians and blood while treating abdominal pain. So Xiong Gui Jiao Ai Tang is good at deficiency patterns suffering from loss of blood, especially with abdominal pain and collapse due to massive hemorrhage.

Moxibustion therapies

According to Compendium of Materia Medica (Ben Cao Gang Mu), moxibustion with mugwort cones cures a variety of diseases. Moxibustion practice is quite similar to acupuncture and the difference between them is the tool used, the choice of needle or burning cone. Moxa is fragrant, inflammable and with warming fire, which is capable of warming associated channels to dispel cold, strengthen Yang-Qi to stop draining away, remove stasis of the blood to dissipate stagnation, and prevent diseases to have a long life. And the weights of them are varied from 3 to 10 grams.

Glutinous rice cake

Ai Ye glutinous rice cakeIt is also a fabulous vegetable. In Dongjiang River of Guangdong province, its tender young leaves and buds are eaten as a vegetable during winter and spring time. More than that, glutinous rice cake is another famous local-flavor snack of south China during the Ching Ming Festival. Usually the ratio of fresh tended leaves and glutinous rice flour mixed together is 1:2. To add some flavors, peanut, sesame, and white sugar or others would be put in as filling too.

Fending off evil

This is a very interesting folk tradition in China. When Dragon Boat Festival comes, people tend to hang or place herbs like mugwort plant and calamus (Chang Pu) on the door of their houses, which they believe can help keep their whole families from jinx the whole year. This ritual was there long ago partly because it is a medicinal herb, which serves as a widely popular moxibustion medium to burn its way to a cure.

Possible side effects and contraindications

Normally mugwort has little side effects if used properly. But it has its own share of cautions and contraindications as well in TCM practice. It is only recommended for non-sensitive skin because its volatile oils have mild stimulation on skins, which might lead to fever and flush. Else, using it over a long period of time could inhibit nerve and impair liver, nervous centralis, and blood vessel due to excessive “volatile oils”. The experiment revealed its essential oils have significant inhibiting action on contract of the isolated heart from toad and little impact on heart rate. However, it might develop atrioventricular block and heart failure in a high concentration dosage.

If poisoning occurs after oral ingestion of large doses mistakenly, first gastric lavage and bone carbon adsorption are the way to go. And then place the patient to a quiet room with lower levels of light to avoid unnecessary stimulation.

Based on the description from Ben Cao Bei Yao Ben Cao Bei Yao (Complete Essentials of the Materia Medica) and Ben Jing Feng Yuan (Journey to the Source of the Materia Medica Classic), mugwort herb should be avoided by those suffering from blood heat due to Yin deficiency from the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view. Hence use it only as directed or consult your doctor when necessary.

7 thoughts on “Mugwort Herb (Ai Ye)

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  3. Cecilia

    Some Web sites warn from using mugwort during pregnancy, as it will relax the uterus and therefore cause miscarriage. Is that true?

      1. Lynn

        The problem with self medicating is that you don’t know what you’re doing….anything can cause harm when used improperly. Consult a professional. ie licensed Dr of Chinese Medicine, or L.Ac.

    1. Nathan

      There are children living a healthy life because of my use of moxa on pregnant patients externally! The important rule of distinguishing the individual case will define moxa’s proper use or not.


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