How to Make an Herbal Liniment

How to make an herbal liniment for muscle pain and stiffness

If you were to visit my home and glance inside my pantry, you’d find the normal food stapes, but also several baskets and bins of assorted homemade herbal remedies in jars, tinctures in dropper bottles and salves in tins that we use for various ailments.

This herbal liniment is a mainstay in my home apothecary and we use it for sore muscles and other aches and pains (on un-broken skin!).

What is a Liniment?

A liniment is a topic remedy, either oil based or liquid, that helps relieve pain, stiffness and sore muscles.

Some liniments are oil based, but my preferred homemade liniment has an alcohol and witch hazel base with a concentration of herbs. Alcohol or witch hazel based liniments are highly effective because the alcohol is so quickly absorbed by the skin, carrying with it the beneficial properties of the added herbs.

Liniments can be made “warm” or “cool” by using different herbs. Using a mixture of cooling herbs (peppermint and menthol) and warming herbs (cayenne and ginger) can help create an alternating effect that I find more effective. I also like to add herbs that help speed recovery in other ways, like arnica, comfrey and yarrow, to speed healing even more.

Liniments have a long history of use on humans and on horses. In a sense, they are considered an “old-time” remedy, but they are still very effective and my go-to for muscle pain and soreness.

Why a Liniment?

I wish I’d had this remedy over a decade ago when I met my husband… We met on a walk across America one summer. We were with a group of college students and as a group we walked over 60+ miles a day, averaging about 15 miles per day individually. I’d “prepared” for the walk by running or jogging a couple of miles a day and buying new running shoes. Both big mistakes.

Mistake #1- New shoes + 15 miles a day = Blisters. Lots of blisters.

Mistake #2- Jogging uses completely different movement than walking and I felt my mistake for most of the first week of walking. In fact, the first couple of days, I was so sore, I didn’t know how I’d keep walking.

How I wish I’d had this homemade herbal liniment those first few weeks. The drug-store liniment we had didn’t do much for my sore muscles and it took a full week before my body got used to the walking so I wasn’t sore each day.

I’ve used this herbal liniment many times since I first made it several years ago, and it is by far the most effective topical remedy I’ve found for sore muscles. The beauty of a DIY liniment is that you can customize the strength and scent to meet your needs.

TIP: I’ve also found that alternating this with spray magnesium oil helps speed recovery even more.

Herbal Liniment Ingredients

Liniments are incredibly simple to make. You need:

Herbal Liniment Instructions

  1. Place all herbs, menthol crystals and fresh ginger (if using) in a pint size glass mason jar.
  2. Add the witch hazel or rubbing alcohol and make sure that all herbs are covered.
  3. Let the mixture sit for at least 4 weeks (8 is preferable).
  4. Strain out the herbs and store the finished liniment in a spray bottle for easy use. If you don’t have a spray bottle, store in any glass bottle or jar and use a cotton ball or gauze pad for easy application. Use as needed for sore muscles.

Notes: Liniments should only be used externally and on unbroken skin. This mixture is shelf stable and will last several years. If you have sensitive skin or are using this on children, reduce the amount of herbs and menthol by half. Menthol crystals will easily dissolve in alcohol or witch hazel, so if you aren’t sure how strong you want your liniment, start with less and add more to the finished liniment if needed. Check with a doctor before using if pregnant/nursing or if you have a medical condition.

*The reason alcohol is often used is that it penetrates skin and evaporates very quickly. It is also very effective at extracting the beneficial properties of the herbs used in this liniment and is used as an antiseptic (a liniment made with alcohol could be used on open wounds depending on the herbs used). Some people prefer not to use alcohol or find it drying, and witch hazel offers another great alternative with beneficial properties of its own.

A Simple Oil Based Alternative

I mentioned that I preferred an alcohol/witch hazel based liniment because I’ve found that they are more effective, but they do take several weeks to make correctly. If you don’t have the time, or would prefer not to order dried herbs, there is a simple and quick way to make an oil-based liniment that is almost as effective:

  • Place 1/2 cup of carrier oil (almond, olive, coconut, etc) in a small jar. Add five drops of each of these essential oils (or any combination of these): Peppermint, Rosemary, Lavender, Eucalyptus, and Ginger.

Have you ever used an herbal liniment? Did it work for you?

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Reader Comments

  1. My sister is a ballet dancer… I should make her some of this for Christmas!

  2. For the oil based-essential oil recipe…does it matter if its eucalyptus radiata or globus? Also at whats the youngest age you recommend using the oil-essential oil spray?

    • I would not use the essential version on children younger than 6 personally, but it is very diluted, so check with a naturopath or aromatherapist. I use Eucalyptus Radiata because it is what I have on hand.

  3. Thanks for this recipe! I would definitely love to use this to relieve some joint pain and muscle stiffness. I’m currently nursing. Is this safe for nursing moms?

  4. I was going to order Ginger and Rosemary…as I’d like to make the oil based remedy…however I remembered I have Hylands Arnica spray and a homeade Arnica salve…would the oil in the recipe above work just the same as the Arnica concoctions?

  5. Thank you for this! I have a potentially dumb question: Do you just spray it on and let it air dry? Or do you make it into a compress? Or rub it in? Again, thank you for this awesome information. I LOVE making new herbal remedies and I haven’t done this one yet.

  6. Any recommendations for edema (swelling) from arthritis? Or, do u feel this remedy as it is is effective?

  7. Is the oil-based version safe for pregnancy? Thank you!

  8. Could I use vodka instead of alcohol to make this?

    • vodka is usually 40% alcohol. i guess it would work. pure alcohol should work much better

  9. Have enjoyed your site for several years now. Tried many of your health receipes. Will try the alcohol/witch hazel liniment receipe for it seems the easier. Thank you for helping families become self sufficient when it comes to choosing products for their health. I am much more aware of chemicals and look at the ingredients on products that I purchase now or make.

  10. I made a liniment while searching for a remedy for my friends back pain (doctors could do nothing) where I literally went through the herb book I used and our cupboards and put EVERYTHING that was good for pain an alcohol liniment. It works amazing on everything from arthritis and sprains to bumps and bruises. It helps with swelling too.

    I keep it in my bag when I hike now, because I had to hike 7 miles back to the car after I tore a muscle in and fractured my ankle when I fell down the mountain, when the the rocks I was standing on gave way. The liniment eliminated the pain element, so with my hiking poles for support my friend didn’t have to carry me.

    • Would you mind posting the recipe? I have Lupus and I have extreme pain and arthritis in my hands, wrists, knees, and pretty much all of my joints. I would try gladly try it! I am so glad I found Wellness Mama!

      • I know this is a little off topic, but since we’re talking about pain relief thought it was worth posting.
        My wife has Lupus, & had fibromyalgia real bad. I had a “Zapper”, which is a little contraption that operates on a 9 volt battery like used in smoke detectors. You hold one object in each hand with each connected to the Zapper by a wire. A very mild current runs through your body from hand to hand.
        My wife used it 2x per day for one month. after 2 weeks she started to feel relief from the pain, & after one month she was totally free of pain & stopped using the Zapper. She then had no pain at all for 2 yrs, then the pain started to come back but not as strong. After using the Zapper again for about one week the pain went away again & has never returned for about 5-6 yrs now.
        You can find Zappers on line. Mine was a simple one that I paid slightly over $100.00 for. I am not a Zapper salesman & have no interest in saying these things except that others may be helped.
        If I knew you & you lived nearby you could use mine for free.

  11. My mom does something similar to this. I don’t know what heal more: the liniment or its strong smell!

  12. All the ingredients have been hidden in this post. I really would like to know how to make the liniment but why are the ingredients blanked out?

    • What do you mean they are “hidden”? Everything seems to be showing up fine for me…

      • Wellness Mama- just seeing this question. I, too, noticed the green links would be blank when I first looked at an article of yours, thereby creating a blank space on the page. I have found I can go back and then go forward to your page again and those green links appear the second time. Strange isn’t it?

        • Not sure why it’s doing that for you. The only suggestion I can make is to make sure your browser and software are up-to-date…

  13. Hi. I love your site but live in Australia so it is very difficult to fine menthol crystals. Is there a substitute I could use?

    • I use wintergreen or camphor essential oil. Just a few drops and adjust as needed.
      Hope that helps.

  14. Has anyone used DMSO? I know Vets have used it in horse remedies for decades. Any thoughts?

    • DMSO basically just helps with absorption.

  15. Hi and thank you for the good tips and recipes. I have a Peppermint infused oil and am wanting to use in a salve. Have you (or anyone else) tried it as a base/carrier? I also use Essential Oils but wanted to try something without them. Thanks! Lisa

  16. Can you use 100 proof alcohol to make a ligament?I wouldn’t use it in the future, I already have a tincture that I would like to use. Thank you

  17. Could I use Liquid Aloe for the base instead of Witch hazel or alcohol?

  18. The instructions you gave for making a liniment look the same as making a herbal tincture. Is there a difference that I’m just not seeing in the recipes?
    Also I tried to make my first liniment this week for sore muscles & noticed that on the Isopropyl alcohol bottle it says “Use only in a well ventilated area; fumes can be harmful.”
    I’m wondering, since the fumes are harmful, wouldn’t absorbing it through the skin also be harmful, or is there a limit as to how much or often it should be used because of this?
    I’ve never seen that warning on a bottle of Ethyl (drinking) alcohol, does that mean that Ethyl is safer than Isopropyl?
    Thank you Wellness Mama for covering this topic.

  19. One more question if I may? I’ve made herbal oils before & in the recipes I followed recommended that they steep 3-4 weeks for the herb constituents to be extracted into the oil, & It takes a long time before the oil changes color.
    I started my first liniment a few days ago using Isopropyl alcohol with Comfrey & horsetail (the same as in the oil) & the alcohol has already taken on a dark color from the herbs.
    My question is; since the constituents are obviously being drawn into the alcohol at a much faster rate than the oil, is it really necessary to wait all that time, & if so, then why?

    • The color does change much more quickly with alcohol and you could strain it earlier if you needed to, but most sources still recommend waiting the full time for maximum benefit.