Moxibustion is more than just using moxa! The word we commonly translate as moxibustion is jiu (灸) in Chinese, and this word actually refers to a wide variety of heat therapies. One method of “moxibustion” that doesn’t burn mugwort leaf is San Fu Moxibustion (三伏灸).
San Fu Moxibusion is a classical method of preventive healthcare that dates back about 300 years in China. During the three most Yang days of the year (chosen based on the traditional Chinese calendar), physicians applied a special type of mustard plaster made with additional Chinese herbs to special acupuncture points on the back (the Back Shu Points). Plasters are then left in place for several hours, and the treatment repeated each of those 3 days. Originally this method was used to treat asthma or other chronic respiratory tract problems such as coughing, sinusitis, etc… It was also traditionally though to prevent colds and flus (and other upper respiratory tract problems) in the following winter. San Fu Moxibustion is therefore what is known as a special method of treating Winter disease during Summer (冬病夏治).
When I was in China back in 2008 I was surprised to see signs up at the provincial hospital in Chengdu advertising this type of treatment to patients. On those 3 special days patients would line up and wait for hours for their turn at getting these special mustard plasters. In our clinic, we hand make the mustard paste the traditional way, first grinding it into powder, then mixing it with fresh ginger juice, and finally ageing the plaster for at least 1 year. This year (2015) the 3 special days are July 13, July 23, and August 12.