QUITTING cigarettes had always been agony for Michele Fenzl, a 55-year-old computer operator from Denver. Pregnancy got her to stop for a while. But in 35 years of smoking a pack a day, nothing else gave her a reprieve.

Until ear seeds.

Last June, her acupuncturist, Karen Kurtak of the Frontier Medical Institute, started affixing tiny black seeds of a Vaccaria plant to specific points on her ears, to quell cravings between twice-weekly sessions with needles.

It is hard to say which aspect of her multipronged program helped Ms. Fenzl stop smoking, but she attributes her success to the seeds taped onto her ears that she calls “life savers.”

Long part of traditional Chinese medicine, “auricular therapy,” as it is called, entails stimulating key points of the outer ear (corresponding to body parts and functions) with seeds or needles as in traditional acupuncture. The practice is now increasingly being used nationwide to treat an array of ailments.

Ear seeds have long been used stateside for addiction treatment. But today, with the growing demand for alternative therapies, there has been an increase in the practice of using ear seeds (or their metallurgic equivalents, acubeads and ear magnets) for health issues from anxiety to pain to insomnia.

“They are used for people in situations of trauma, for example in the aftermaths of 9/11, Katrina, the California wildfires,” said Cynthia Neipris, an acupuncturist in New York and the director of outreach and community education for the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, which trains students to use ear seeds. “And, because the seeds are worn home, it’s an added plus because it involves the patient in their own healing process.”

It is not known precisely how ear seeds work nor has enough research been done to prove which ailments they help relieve. But licensed acupuncturists as well as doctors from world-class hospitals recommend them.

Dr. P. Grace Harrell, an anesthesiologist and an acupuncturist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who uses seeds and acubeads to help treat back pain, suggests they may stimulate activity in the brain.

But that is a guess. “We don’t know exactly what the ear seeds do,” she said. “What I do know is that more people are wearing them. I have patients coming in and asking for the seeds.”

Staff acupuncturists at rehabilitation centers like Promises Treatment Center in Malibu, Calif., have long recommended ear seeds to help alleviate “physiological symptoms associated with addiction,” said Donna Markus, the executive director. They have been useful for anxiety and depression as well, she said.

Do the conspicuous seeds draw unwanted attention? “No one has ever commented on them,” said Laura Soncrant, 32, who wears the seeds because of her insomnia. She said that pressing on them throughout the day has improved her sleep to the point that she can’t live without them now. “Since I wear them between acupuncture sessions, and my sessions are once every two weeks, there are even those days when the seeds have fallen off and I want to go to the acupuncturist just for them.”