What is an Herbal Liniment?

Angela Williams Duea

An herbal liniment is a liquid made with alcohol, oil, or water, and beneficial herbs and essential plant oils. The liquid is intended to be used as a topical rub to soothe aches and pains, refresh the skin, and stop bug bites or itching. Athletes have used herbal liniments for centuries as an after-sports rub. In alternative and holistic medicines, especially in Asian medicine, the use of an herbal liniment is highly respected to ease the pain of arthritis, bruises, strains, sprains, and sore muscles.

An herbal liniment might be used in traditional medicine to treat bruises.
An herbal liniment might be used in traditional medicine to treat bruises.

As a painkilling liniment, a body rub may contain a variety of ingredients. One brand, called Tiger Balm liniment, contains the familiar ingredients of menthol, oil of wintergreen, lavender, and eucalyptus, in a mineral oil base. These ingredients are often found in a painkilling liniment or cream, since menthol, eucalyptus, and wintergreen all create a cooling sensation while increasing circulation to the area where the rub is applied. In addition, practitioners of alternative medicine claim that oil of lavender heals bruises, muscle soreness and sprains, as well as external skin problems like minor burns and scrapes.

Herbal liniment can help stop itching caused by bug bites.
Herbal liniment can help stop itching caused by bug bites.

Zheng gu shui liniment is a Chinese preparation that has been used since ancient times. It is said to improve circulation, reduce swelling, heal sprains and bruises, and regenerate broken bones. The body rub was designed for use by martial arts practitioners. Though the ingredients may vary, this herbal liniment usually has an alcohol base and contains ginseng, ginger, camphor and menthol oils, cinnamon bark, croton seed, angelica root, and inula flower.

Herbs are often mixed with rubbing alcohol to make liniment.
Herbs are often mixed with rubbing alcohol to make liniment.

A homemade liniment can be made as a poultice for inflamed joints or insect stings. Mix together 1 oz. (28 g) powdered myrrh, 1/2 oz. (14 g) powdered golden seal, 1/4 oz. (7 g) cayenne pepper, four drops cinnamon essence, and 1 pint (473 ml) rubbing alcohol; these ingredients can be found in a natural foods or holistic medicine shop. Store the herbal liniment in the refrigerator until used. A poultice of these ingredients can be applied several times a day until the pain is relieved.

Herbal liniment often contains ginger.
Herbal liniment often contains ginger.

Each of these types of liniments contains ingredients that can cause irritation or an allergic reaction in some people with sensitive skin. Before rubbing large areas with an herbal liniment, test on a small area first and note any negative reaction in the skin or deeper tissues. Most preparations should list directions and dosage for use, and these instructions should be followed carefully to avoid skin reactions over time. If in doubt, the patient should check with a doctor before using the medicine.

Oil of lavender may be helpful in treating minor burns.
Oil of lavender may be helpful in treating minor burns.
Some herbal liniment solutions may be used as pain relief spray formulas.
Some herbal liniment solutions may be used as pain relief spray formulas.

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Discussion Comments

julies

I have an arthritis herbal liniment that has wintergreen and eucalyptus in it. When my joints get stiff and sore, this liniment really helps ease some of the pain.

It really works well if I apply a heat pad after I rub on the liniment. This helps the herbal ingredients in the liniment penetrate deep into my joints and I can feel a difference within a few minutes.

I use this liniment more in the winter when it is really cold outside than I do in the summer. It is also good on cold, damp days when my hands don't want to work as well as they used to.

myharley

I have a first aid herbal salve that I purchased from Watkins that is great to have handy in the medicine cabinet.

I have used this for insect bites, cuts and burns. This is the first thing I usually reach for when I have a minor skin irritation.

This salve has camphor, spruce and tea tree oil which is one reason it heals cuts so quickly. I also have a tiny tin that I carry in my purse which has come in handy a few times as well.

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