by Dr. Kim Graham, Dr. TCM
Source: medicinal roots

When, after their acupuncture treatment, I tell my patients for the first time how I would like to apply seeds to various points in their ears, I get a look that simultaneously asks if I am joking, and perhaps more importantly, if they heard me correctly. The question that usually follows is “You want to put WHAT in my EARS?”

I understand their apprehension. After all, we have been taught from a very young age about the dangers of putting anything smaller than our elbows into our ears! So the idea of letting someone tape small seeds to his or her ears can be cause for some trepidation.

Firstly I should clarify that seed therapy can be used anywhere on the body, at specific acu-points, but more commonly, seeds are used as part of a specific type of treatment known as auricular (ear) therapy.

Auricular acupuncture and the use of the ear as a diagnostic tool are documented in some of the earliest texts on traditional Chinese medicine. The theories and methods of treatment described in these texts have been studied and developed over time into the highly specialized therapy that is in use today. Over the past 30 years there has been extensive research into the effectiveness of auricular therapy in the treatment of various mental/emotional problems (including the disease of addiction and PTSD) with tremendous results in favour if its efficacy.

Eerily accurate as a diagnostic tool, patients are generally shocked when a trained therapist can tell immediately without asking questions which hip, knee, or limb is painful, if there have been any fractures in the body, or if they have trouble sleeping or are suffering from nightmares. It is not magic. The answer is simple. The body never lies.

The ear is a micro-system. A virtual map of the entire body that is reflected on its surface. A therapist trained in auricular therapy reads the information presented by the ear and translates it into valuable diagnostic information. In terms of TCM practice, various diagnostic clues are noted. Things such colour, temperature, and visible veins are observed in order to shed light on how the corresponding area of the body is being affected.

Applying seed therapy to the ears after an acupuncture treatment can extend the active phase of treatment, allowing the patient to self-administer pressure to the points as needed or at regular intervals as prescribed by the practitioner.

The type of seed used is called the Vaccaria seed (Semen Vaccariae), commonly known as Cowherb or Soapwort seeds in the West. In traditional Chinese medicine, these seeds are known as the herb Wang Bu Liu Xing and belong to a class of herbs known to invigorate blood and remove stagnation (Qi). According to TCM theory, the two dominant factors present in painful conditions are the stagnation of Qi and Blood. This herb in particular has an effect on both, with greater emphasis on the blood.

For use in the ear, and other body parts, these seeds were chosen primarily for their size and evenness (small, smooth and resilient to the body’s oils) enabling them to provide sustained local stimulation to specific acu-points. However, their Blood and Qi moving properties cannot be overlooked as potentiating factors in treatment. Seed therapy is invaluable in the treatment of patients who have a fear of needles, or otherwise have strong physiological reactions to acupuncture. Each seed is typically held in place with a small strip of either tan or clear tape, and are virtually undetectable.

The treatment applications for seed and auricular therapy are numerous, and when performed by a qualified trained practitioner can be enormously beneficial.