Friday, February 21, 2014

Homemade Liniment

Last fall I used up the last of my little 4 oz. bottle of Absorbine Jr. so I had Hubs pick me up a bottle on the way home from his workout.  As with everything else, the price has gone up (to $10 for a 4 oz. bottle.  OMG)..... I stared at that little bottle and thought, "This is ridiculous." 

Absorbine Jr. has an interesting history in that the original recipe (Absorbine Sr., if you will) was horse liniment.  Heh.  That doesn't bother me.  People love their horses in this part of Oklahoma.  I know what an investment a horse is.  And so if it's good enough for a horse, more than likely it's good enough for me.


'Nuff said?

The bottle label lists the botanicals it contains as absynthium oil, calendula, echinacea, wormwood, and thyme.  The active ingredient is "natural menthol", which is kind of vague, don't you think?  Mountain Rose Herbs sells "menthol crystals", which they say are made from the Mentha arvensis plant, also known as "Wild Mint".  So maybe this is what is meant by "natural menthol".

I Googled for a clone recipe for Absorbine Jr. and didn't come up with anything that looked right.  However, if you use "herbal liniment recipes" as your search term, you will find lots of options to choose from. 

Other ingredients are iodine, FD&C blue and yellow colors, and acetone.  Seriously?  Isn't acetone what's in fingernail polish and remover?  If you've ever spilled it on furniture, you know the remover works the same as paint and varnish remover.  *Sigh*.  I bet Wilbur and Mary Ida Young, the original formulators of this product, never put acetone or food coloring in theirs.  Maybe a little turpentine, though.  Hubs' parents put Turpentine on everything, back in the 1930's and 40's.  Even de-wormed their twelve kids with turpentine in a teaspoon of sugar.  Yikes.  I looked it up on WebMD HERE and well, I guess it IS a botanical. But the warnings about internal usage and especially the warnings for children are scarey.  It's just a pure-dee miracle Hubs and his eleven siblings survived their childhood!  It appears that Turpentine OIL is not the same thing as GUM turpentine, and WebMD does say the oil may be safe for adults to use externally or to inhale, but even so, I wouldn't have the guts to use it.  Where there are reviews that people have submitted, I always read them and one reviewer said they had better results using Arnica for a topical remedy for arthritis pain.  That reminded me that I have bought Arnica seeds and I think I've WinterSown them, but if I haven't I'm going to find the seed packet and make sure I get them planted.  The reviews for Arnica flowers are very positive.  HERE is what WebMD (and the reviewers) have to say about Arnica.

Back when I was a kid, most people didn't believe you absorbed anything from stuff you got on your skin. Those that did got laughed at by their doctor and most of the other people that they knew.  These days, though, even doctors know that it is so.  There is medication, for instance, to calm down nausea that comes in little vials and you rub it on your wrists, where they say your skin is thinnest.  There are some people who say if you have a bad cough that's keeping you from sleeping at night, you should rub Vicks VapoRub on the bottoms of your feet, put on warm socks, and then go right to bed.  I've heard the skin is thickest on the soles of your feet, so skin thickness must not be too much of an obstacle to absorption.  Just as skin takes in that which is on the outside, it emits it.  If you've ever been around people who eat a lot of garlic, you will know this already.  Come to think of it, seems like I heard of people infusing garlic in olive oil and rubbing it on their feet at night.  They said in the morning you'll have garlic breath.  Heh.

So, that being the case, WHY IN THE WORLD would anybody want to rub something like acetone on their skin? 

All the health issues aside, it just gripes me to pay a little over $10 for a 4 oz. bottle of herbal water plus artificial colors and some acetone, for Cripe's sake.

I bought a new jar of Icy Hot at WMT a month or two ago and IT was $5 and something.  I guess it's not enough that we're paying astronomical prices for prescription drugs, now the price of over-the-counter stuff has sky-rocketed too.  Hacks me off, big-time.  I like Icy Hot as a sore muscle rub and I have used Vicks as a chest rub for colds for years.  My mom used to use Vicks for everything.  I'm not going to concern myself today with what's in those, good or bad, though I think there are some petroleum products involved. (Wikipedia lists the ingredients in Vicks as "camphor, menthol, spirits of turpentine, eucalyptus oil, cedar leaf oil, myristica oil, thymol".  Nope.  Not going to address that right now.  But O.M.G......  I looked up myristica oil and that's from nutmeg and mace.  HERE is what WebMD has to say about that.

So last year I started casting around the Internet for an Absorbine Jr. clone recipe but never found one.  I had most of the herbs listed on the bottle, home-grown and already dried and stored away: Artemesia (Wormwood), culinary Sage (which I thought was high in Thymol), a little bit of Calendula, and some dried "Berries and Cream" mint that is decidedly camphor-tasting and nothing like I expected Berries and Cream mint to look or taste like.  I'm not even sure that's what it IS, it wouldn't be the first time I've been sold something that was other than what it was supposed to be.  But anyway, I thought it might be a good ingredient.

I just winged the recipe, heavy on the Wormwood, about half as much sage and mint.  Whatever I had of the Calendula.  A little Rosemary.  The only thing I had to buy was a bottle of the cheapest 100-proof vodka for my base and maybe I didn't even need to.  I could've just used cider vinegar or witch hazel, both of which have some healing properties in their own right.  Rubbing alcohol is another option but it's kind of harsh on the skin.  The vodka was $10, but I used just enough to cover the herbs once they pack down and that was only about half the bottle.  Of course this made a lot more than 4 ounces of liniment.  About a pint and a half, in fact.  Mom always used to say, "A pint's a pound the world around".  That's not the case for everything, but I think in this case it's pretty close.   

Once the herbs are infused in it, it is not drinkable because of the absinthe in the Artemesia.  Yes, I know some people do drink Absinthe, but that's their problem, not mine.  There are A LOT of things people consume that I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.  I'm not a vodka drinker, anyway.  Having said that, however, I looked up Artemesia (wormwood) to see if it would be harmful if absorbed by the skin.  WebMD says absinthe is harmful to drink because it is distilled in alcohol, which increases the potency of the thujone that's present in the herb.  It didn't say anything about harmful effects of skin absorption.  So I just can't say.  For this reason, though, next time I'll not use vodka.  I'll use witch hazel or cider vinegar as the carrier instead.  There is mention on the Absorbine Jr. bottle that it contains "water".  I'm just not sure as to whether the solution would have very good keeping qualities if the carrier was water, even if it was distilled water.  Ever left a cup of tea somewhere and forgot about it for a few days?  Yuk!   There are several plants that are in the Artemesia family and Sweet Annie is another one of them.  I love the way Sweet Annie smells, and some came up volunteer in the garden last year.  I looked it up on WebMD and didn't see the same warnings for it that I saw for Wormwood.  

So here's the concoction, in vodka, after a couple days.  One wouldn't want to take too deep a whiff!  Hoo-Weee!  Pretty strong-smelling stuff!  The liquid is already copper-colored.  This is a two-quart jar, by the way.  It needs to sit like this for about six weeks.  The herbs soaked up some of the vodka so I had to add a little more every now and then, to keep the herbs covered.

Now that I've had it about a year, I can attest to the fact that it does feel every bit as good when rubbed on sore muscles, as "the real thing", at least to me.  I've also used it on rashes and insect stings.  When my wounds were healed from arthroscopic knee surgery, I rubbed some on my knee from time to time when it was feeling sore.  It was very comforting, I don't know if it was from the liniment or maybe it was just the rubbing action.

I have told Hubs many times, if I ever were to become rich, I'd have fresh, line-dried sheets on my bed every night and I'd get a massage every day.

Maybe it was just the vodka going through my skin into my bloodstream.  Heh.

I filled the empty Absorbine Jr. bottle that had a sponge applicator and kept the rest in a glass quart canning jar with a tight lid.  Store it out of the light and heat, but it isn't necessary to keep it refrigerated.  If I didn't have the little applicator bottle, and eventually I won't because the sponge will wear out, I'd just use one of those small complexion sponges to apply it.  The bottle is on its second refill and I've still got about half a jar left.  I wouldn't see any need to add yellow and blue food coloring, would you?

I found the yellow stickie where I wrote down the amounts of what I used, and here it is:

16 grams dried peppermint leaves  (I used orange mint, which tastes and smells medicinal, and not anything like orange or mint.  I'm told it's also called "perfume mint".  I've ordered seeds for Mountain Mint, which is said to be "camphor-ey" and was used by the mountain folk in teas and salves for coughs and sore throats.  If it grows well here on the prairie, I might use that instead in the future.)
32 grams dried artemesia leaves (I used Wormwood, specifically)
16 grams dried sage leaves*
5 grams dried calendula flowers (but I would've used 16 if I'd had it)
6 grams dried rosemary leaves (I might up that to 10 grams)
vodka to cover, about a quart (or witch hazel, cider vinegar, rubbing alcohol)

*I used the sage in the place of thyme, because I didn't have any thyme.  Now I have oregano which contains almost as much Thymol as thyme.  (I'm trying to grow thyme but not having much luck yet.  Of course I could always order some from Penzey's.) 

I thought about using Echinacea, since it was on the list of contents, but as I researched it, I just didn't see that it would be all that effective in a sore muscle rub.

Iodine was on the list but here again, I just didn't think it was necessary.  When I was a kid, every medicine chest had a little bottle of iodine in it.  We called it "monkey blood".  Sometimes my nephews would hurt themselves on purpose so they could have some smeared on.  Iodine stains whatever it touches and it feels kind of sticky when dry.  WebMD says it's used to kill germs and the only other use for skin that it lists is for treating diabetic ulcers.  Nope.  Not going in THAT direction.  But it's funny how things in households change over the years.  When I was raising my kids and grandkids, Hydrogen Peroxide was our go-to for cuts and scrapes.  Kids like that too, because it bubbles.  Kids.  Gotta love 'em.

I also had some dried Comfrey that I might've used, but you aren't supposed to use Comfrey on deep wounds and though I intended to use the liniment for sore muscles, and maybe minor cuts, scrapes or stings, I wanted to get more information first.  The jury's still out and WebMD says it causes liver damage when taken internally, but there are many anecdotal comments of its healing properties to the skin, reduction of swelling, and pain relief from arthritis.  I think I'll include some next time, but my Caveat would be that you educate yourself and do what you feel comfortable with.  For sure, I'd feel more comfortable putting Comfrey on my skin than Acetone.  Or Turpentine.  But that's just me.

It's funny how the medical community gets so up in arms over possible harmful side-effects in herbs, yet the pharmaceutical industry always has a list of side-effects as long as your arm for their lab-created medicines and that's just those they KNOW about.  After they've been used by us (aka guinea pigs) for awhile, the list gets longer and sometimes the drug is completely taken off the market.  In the doctor's office, nobody even TELLS you about the "known side-effects", they just write out the prescription.  You have to hear about that on the TV commercials.  OMG!  Liver Damage, Anal Leakage, Heart Attack or Stroke, Blindness, and we all know about that one side-effect that you have to see your doctor for immediately if it lasts longer than four hours. 

So if you want to make your own liniment, maybe this will be enough to get you your wheels turning.

HERE is the WebMD information about Artemesia (Wormwood).  And HERE for Artemesia (Sweet Annie).
HERE is what WebMD says about Peppermint.
HERE is what WebMD says about Rosemary.
HERE is what WebMD says about Calendula.
HERE is what WebMD says about Thyme.  I used sage because I didn't have any thyme, and turns out it was not as good a choice as an alternative as oregano might've been.  HERE is what WebMD says about Oregano.

As with everything, if you decide to try making your own liniment, do your homework and know what the properties of the herbs you use are.  Once made, use cautiously at first, watching for any signs of sensitivity.  Some people are allergic or at least highly sensitive to certain herbs.  Don't use if you are pregnant or breast feeding.  Herbs are natural medicine and should be used with care. 

Hugs to all  XOXOXO


  1. I am with you re acetone. My grandmother wrote to my father in the 30s recommending he put Absorbine Jr on his gums like she did since they both are bad teeth and gums. !@#!? Sad to say they both died relatively young. Thujone and Wormwood are guilty by association, the original absinthe was sometimes colored with copper sulfate and in any case recent analysis shows more thujone in Dalmatian sage used for food than in Wormwood. The Chinese wormwood Sweet Annie is the source of a current antimalaria extract. From an American Medical Assn book 1913. >ABSORBINE, JR.
    Young's Panacea for Earthly Ills
    {Abstracted, with additions, from The Journal A. M. A., Oct. 25, 1913, p. 15SB)
    Absorbine, Jr., rS a liniment sold by W. F. Young, P.D.F. (whatever these letters may mean), Springfield, Mass.
    "Absorbine, Jr., is a clear, bright green liquid having a strong, penetrating, mint-like odor. From the examination it appears probable that the product is an acetone extract of some plant, probably wormwood, with the possible addition of some oil of sassafras and menthol. A product almost identical in physical appearance may be made from the following formula:
    "Oit of wormwood 4 c.c.
    "Oil of sassafras 1 c.c.
    "Menthol 1 gm.
    "Acetone, sufficient to make 100 c.c."
    The Journal commented on the preparation in part as follows:
    "Absorbine, Jr., is but another example of those fraudulent methods of exploitation that seem inseparable from the patent medicine business.

    1. By the way, I had to consume a "Boost" nutritional drink every day for a week before and after knee replacement surgery and I saved the little (6 oz?) white jars with the screw top. Perfect for storing my homemade herbal liquid stuff like this! Also see my additional comment below.

    2. Oh, and I also wanted to say that I would NEVER recommend taking liniment internally. Yikes! But I know what you mean, our elders were dangerously careless about things like that. And they also trusted all the products they were sold to be "pure" and "good for them". My mother used to swallow Vicks Vaporub for a sore throat. She developed bladder cancer in her 60's, probably not brought on by Vicks but then I don't know for certain, had surgery and chemo and survived long enough to die of a stroke at the age of 92.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Tim! I haven't made any more since this post but I might this winter, and I think I WILL add Comfrey, with a warning placed on the label not to use it where deep wounds exist. It's something about it will heal the surface before the deep part of the wound, which then won't heal. Weird.

    Isn't that just like the medical community to call herbal preparations "fraudulent methods of exploitation". How about their patented medicines that cost exorbitant amounts and still have side-effects more serious than the malady they are prescribed to prevent?

    About sassafras oil, WebMD has this to say: "Despite serious safety concerns, sassafras is used for urinary tract disorders, swelling in the nose and throat, syphilis, bronchitis, high blood pressure in older people, gout, arthritis, skin problems, and cancer. It is also used as a tonic and “blood purifier.”

    Some people apply sassafras directly to the skin to treat skin problems, achy joints (rheumatism), swollen eyes, sprains, and insect bites or stings. Sassafras oil is also applied to the skin to kill germs and head lice.

    In beverages and candy, sassafras was used in the past to flavor root beer. It was also used as a tea. But sassafras tea contains a lot of safrole, the chemical in sassafras that makes it poisonous. One cup of tea made with 2.5 grams of sassafras contains about 200 mg of safrole. That equates to a dose of about 3 mg of safrole per 1 kg of body weight. This is about 4.5 times the dose that researchers think is poisonous. So, in 1976, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that sassafras could no longer be sold as sassafras tea." Rose Mountain Herbs, where I buy my essential oil, does not sell sassafras oil but does sell the bark or the leaf. They note on their website that sassafras oil "is highly regulated". But I reckon if people wanted to they could put some sassafras bark, like that which is used to make tea with, or some leaves, like that which is used in Louisiana to season gumbo, to the mixture in the jar.

    I love sassafras tea, by the way, but I don't drink it very often because I've heard it thins the blood 'way down. I drank it fairly often when I could get it, when I was younger, without any ill effects though. Still alive at 69, and I do not take any prescriptions regularly. I guess I'm in better health than some folks my age.... ....And most importantly, not dead yet. But maybe that's just me, and all that DDT my parents sprayed around when I was an infant.


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