herbal liniments

Liniments are externally-applied treatments that can be adapted for a variety of situations. Learn when and why to use liniments – and what herbs to look for in natural products.

Sport horses are truly amazing athletes. They have so much heart. Caring for your equine athlete, along with keeping him comfortable and managing the stress on his body after a show, event, endurance ride or heavy workout, will help keep him performing at his best. Top veterinary care, equine dentistry, hoof care, and healing modalities like massage, chiropractic and acupuncture are just a few ways you can provide excellent care for your sports horse. Including all-natural, herbal-based liniments is a further way to keep him comfortable, speed recovery time, and improve his athletic performance.

What are liniments?

Liniments are externally-applied treatments used for a variety of situations. They can be adapted for different conditions depending on the herbal extracts added to them. Warming herbs such as ginger, black pepper or cayenne can be added to help with circulation, speed recovery time, reduce pain and swelling, and manage conditions like arthritis, rheumatism, sprains, strains and bruises. Cooling herbs like peppermint or menthol crystals can also help with the reduction of inflammation and swelling, and for pain management. It is important to note that menthol can be irritating to some horses, so liniments that contain menthol should be applied sparingly and the horse observed for signs of skin irritation or discomfort.

Creating herbal liniments

Liniments are usually made by creating an herbal tincture and then mixing it with a “carrier” or base product such as vegetable oils, water or aloe vera gel. My preference is aloe vera gel because it is soothing to the skin and helps counteract the drying effects of an alcohol-based tincture. An herbal tincture is made by mixing herbs with a menstruum such as rubbing alcohol, witch hazel, organic grain alcohol or vinegar. Rubbing alcohol is typically the menstruum of choice for liniments because it effectively extracts the therapeutic healing constituents from the herbs, rapidly penetrates the skin, and has antiseptic properties. The herbs of choice are mixed with the menstruum and allowed to sit for a period of time. The herbs are then strained out. The herbal tincture that remains can be added to a liniment formulation. Liniments should always be labeled “for external use only”. Essential oils can also be added to liniments to provide more healing benefits.

Top 12 liniment herbs

The following is a list of herbs that provide healing benefits when added to a liniment formulation:

Arnica: Excellent for use with traumatic soft tissue injuries or bruising. Indications include sprains, strains, bruises, rheumatism and sore muscles. Stimulates circulation, and is an anti-inflammatory and mild analgesic.

Black cohosh: Indicated for muscle spasms, achy pains, joint inflammation and rheumatism. Antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic.

Calendula: Aids in healing wounds, burns, bruises, and rashes. Antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, wound healing.

Cayenne: A warming herb that increases circulation and provides heat to relieve aching muscles and pain from arthritis. Use sparingly and with caution as too much cayenne in a liniment can be very irritating to the skin. Keep anything with cayenne in it well away from the eyes, nose and mouth. Antiseptic, and a topical vasodilator.

Chamomile: Excellent for reducing inflammation and healing burns, ulcers and wounds. Helps provide pain relief. Antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antifungal, analgesic.

Comfrey: Used for contusions, sprains, fractures, wounds, burns, skin disorders and arthritis. Wound healing and anti-inflammatory.

Echinacea: Excellent for skin complaints and used to encourage wound healing and protect from infection. Antiviral, antibacterial, immune-stimulant, anti-inflammatory.

Lavender: My favorite herb for its versatility, safety, efficacy, calming effects and wonderful aroma. Use for muscle spasms, wound healing, burns. Also excellent for its aromatherapeutic calming and reassuring effects. Improves mental alertness. Anti-inflammatory, mild sedative for nervous exhaustion, stress reliever, anti-depressant, spasolytic, and anti-microbial.

Peppermint: Cooling herb that helps relieve muscle spasms, provides some pain relief, and alleviates itchy skin due to its menthol content. Antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, mild disinfectant, and external analgesic.

Rue: Used externally for tendonitis, sprains, strains, and bruises. Antispasmodic, antimicrobial.

St. John’s wort: Used for nerve pain, chronic pain, burns, bruises, and muscular pain. Antiviral, anti-inflammatory, astringent, antibacterial, wound healing, antioxidant.

Witch hazel: Used for wound healing, localized inflammation, bruised legs and tired/sore muscles. Also beneficial for mucus membrane irritation. Astringent, anti-inflammatory, styptic.

Liniments can be massaged into a specific area of the body or added to a bucket of warm water and applied as a rinse after a heavy workout. They can become a welcome part of your horse’s daily routine, and will help him recover faster from his workouts, and aid in preventing soreness and injury.



Sara Murdoch is the owner and founder of The Equine Apothecary, which specializes in all-natural health and grooming products for horses. The products are botanically-based, feature herbal extracts and essential oils, and are formulated using the principles of herbalism and aromatherapy. Sara is a lifelong horsewoman with a degree in Equine Science with a Science Concentration from Colorado State University. She was also a Registered Veterinary Technician for ten years. Look for the Herbal Renew Liniment, coming soon (TheEquineApothecary.com).