Antifungal Herbs and Essential Oils

back to expert panel

by Karin Parramore, CH

We live in a world teeming with life, thanks in part to the high moisture content of our beautiful blue globe. After all, our planet holds 326 million trillion gallons of water!1 All that moisture is what allows for the verdant growth of life that makes Earth so unique.

However, while we love to see the lush green of growing things around us, it is much less pleasant to find them growing on us! Under normal circumstances our body can defend against fungal overgrowth. The acid mantle of our skin, naturally occurring friendly bacteria, and our immune response all work to keep fungus in check. Sometimes, however, particularly when we are under stress of any kind, we need a little help. Fortunately, Nature has provided us with many effective antifungal agents.

One well-known and time-honored antifungal is Tea Tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia). Tea tree oil has been extensively researched, which means there is hard data about its effectiveness. For example, in a study on dandruff, believed to be associated with the fungus Pityrosporum ovale, there was a marked clinical response seen in 68% of the 50% tea tree oil group and 72% of the 25% tea tree oil group, compared to 39% in the placebo group.2

This is interesting—the study showed that a lower concentration of tea tree oil, 25% dilution, proved to be more effective than the more concentrated formula. This holds true generally for essential oil use—less is usually more effective.

Tea tree oil seems to work against fungus by disrupting the integrity of the cell membrane.3 By making the membrane more fluid, agents that kill fungus have an easier time entering the cell. It may be that Tea tree oil helps our natural defenses have an easier time destroying the fungus. Anytime we can use our natural defenses against an infectious agent our immune system grows stronger as a result, and more likely to deal effectively with the invader the next time it shows up.

Myrrh (Commyphora molmol), which has been used by many different cultures for centuries, is another plant with a great deal of recent research behind it. Studies seem to suggest Myrrh acts as an immunostimulant, helping those natural defenses act more effectively against fungus and other pathogens. It does this by increasing white blood cells, those little fighters of the immune system that help keep us safe. In addition, myrrh has direct antimicrobial actions.4

Better yet, Myrrh seems to be effective against a broad spectrum of fungi. Traditionally, it has been used for thrush, herpes simplex, Candida and other yeast infections. In one study, fractions from Commyphora molmol showed antibacterial and antifungal activity against standard pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candida albicans.5

All the microbes in this study have been associated with the rise of nosocomial (hospital-induced) infections as they have become more resistant to conventional antimicrobial agents. Perhaps it is time for health institutions to consider a return to naturally effective antimicrobials.

Diaper rash is another common fungal infection associated with Candida albicans. As Myrrh has been shown to be effective against Candida it makes a great topical treatment for babies’ little bottoms. It works particularly well in combination with Calendula, a soothing, healing herb that can calm the associated inflammation.

And while it is true that historically, ground myrrh was dusted into shoes to help with foot fungus, a good long soak in a footbath with myrrh essential oil might be easier and less messy!

Stubborn fungal infections of the nail-bed are often the most resistant to cure. This is because the nail is so efficient at protecting the underlying skin—it can be hard to deliver the therapeutic agent to the site. It may be necessary to remove as much of the nail as possible, and may even require thinning the nail by filing it away. Some podiatrists will even drill a minute hole in the nail, although please, do not try this at home! Once the nail is out of the way, so to speak, applications of Thyme (Thymus vulgare) may be effective against these persistent nail fungus infections. A foot soak made with a strong Thyme tea, repeated often, can often eradicate fungus when nothing else has worked. Alternately, the essential oil may be used, but it is important to ensure it stays off the surrounding skin. The best way to do this is by the application of a barrier cream.

All fungal infections are notoriously difficult to clear. Whether you choose a pharmaceutical or an herbal treatment diligent application seems to be the only choice to truly wipe out fungus. Some infections may require multiple applications throughout the day, which can prove to be a tall order for busy people. The sheer tenacity of fungus means we need to be equally tenacious in our attempt to reclaim our health by reducing the fungal load to a level our natural defenses can manage.

While is it clearly important to reduce the fungal load, there are actually several aspects we must address to eradicate it altogether. As well as strengthening the immune system, it is vital to remove the nutrient source the fungus thrives on. While this is commonly understood in association with Candida infections, not as much attention is placed on diet for clearing fungal infections of the skin. Making changes to remove sugars in all forms from the diet will go a long way toward starving the fungus. It also makes sense to stop or reduce the intake of foods that contain fungus, like mushrooms, blue cheeses, and the like—if our body is having trouble with fungus on the skin it is probably having difficulty internally as well. It is best to strive to eat only fresh and freshly prepared food—fungus can grow on leftovers overnight!

It may also help to add antifungal herbs to the diet. Garlic, especially raw, is an ancient remedy against fungus, and Pau d"Arco tea has shown positive results as well. Cinnamon, a natural blood sugar regulator, may help the body adjust to a reduced sugar diet.

So many common elements of modern life, like stress, increased antibiotic and steroid use, and birth control pills can all increase the likelihood of a fungal infection. The increased incidence of diabetes and obesity means we are more likely to see more fungal infections as well. It is therefore important we know how to effectively avoid and treat fungus.


  3. Ibid

Share Mama:

Did you like what Mama had to say? Share this page today!

Mama's Testimonials

"I bought my friend an Earth Mama gift basket for her baby shower and she loved it. Everybody 'oooohed and aaahhhed' at what a cool gift it was." Angelica H. Burbank, CA
"After battling with severe diaper rash for what seemed to be an eternity and trying every diaper rash cream and treatment available and ending up having to give my baby antibiotics because his skin was tearing the rash had gotten so bad, I found your Angel Baby Bottom Balm while searching online for a cure. I was skeptical at first, as I had tried so many products only to have them fail. None of them offered the relief they promised. I ordered the "Little Something for Baby's Sore Bottom" package and washed his bottom with the Angel Baby Diaper Rash Soap upon arrival and applied the balm. After one application of your Angel Baby Bottom Balm I noticed a tremendous difference by the next diaper change. By morning the redness was completely gone. Thank you so much for giving my little man the relief he needed. Your shipping was incredibly fast as I ordered late in the day and my order was shipped the same day. Again THANK YOU!!" Georgia Mom of 2
"Angel Baby Bottom Balm is more than just a diaper rash cream. I use this on my son's entire body. It works miracles for my son's eczema. I can't get enough of it!" Kia A. Hughson, CA
"I received a jar of Angel Baby Bottom Balm from my mother. I have to say, this was the best goodie yet. I used it several times on my 9 month old angel Natalie's bottom for rashes. One application right before bedtime, and by morning, the rash is gone. She also developed a yeast-type infection from her chubby thigh creases (love them!), and her pediatrician wrote a prescription for cream. I never filled it, as I tried the Angel Baby Bottom Balm and it worked - in 2 applications! I also used it on my 5 1/2 year old son, who had what appeared to be a burn on his arm, and it cleared up in a day or two. Thank you, and thank you again. You have a believer in me (and my angels)!" Carol C.
"I just wanted to send a rave review and thank you for your Bottom Balm. My son is 20 months old and for quite some time now has suffered near-chronic diaper rash. He has extremely sensitive skin and it seemed that we could do nothing to prevent the diaper rash from returning. My sister had given me a newborn gift set from Earth Mama Angel Baby that included a jar of the Angel Baby Bottom Balm; I'd just never used it. So, I gave it a try. Within a very short period of time, the balm totally cleared up my son's rash. We have been using it after every diaper change now for a month, and I have to say, the appearance of the skin on his bottom is 100% better. I've also used the balm on some of his cuts and scrapes and have noticed that they heal quicker. I just want to thank you for an incredible product. I had tried EVERYTHING on the market - every single brand of diaper cream and nothing came remotely close to your product's effectiveness. I am very into reading labels, so I also appreciate the organic and all-natural aspect of your product as well. My son asks for the balm by name. When it's diaper change time, he yells, "Bom! Bom! Bom!" and after I put it on, he will say "ahhhhh!" So thank you so much - I'm pregnant with our second baby and I will use this from the get-go with him/her." Very truly yours, S. O. Philadelphia, PA
"EMAB got me through this pregnancy! I had heartburn like you WOULDN'T BELIEVE...the Earth Mama Heartburn Tea REALLY DID help! Had a c-section and have been using the C-Mama Healing Salve&trade. I am unable to breastfeed due to medical reasons, so that No More Milk Tea came in very handy as I tried to "de-gorge" my poor boobs, who have now gone back to their droopy selves! And of course...the Angel Baby Bottom Balm. I change her and she is ALL RED, put on the Angel Baby Bottom Balm and the next change...she is white again! I'm so glad I can actually use the products. Of course Amaya, my oldest, loves her Angel Baby Shampoo and Body Wash and now I have real baby to use it on. I just wanted to let you know that you create some really sweet products! xoxox," Julie K. Portland OR
"SO, I'm emailing because I have to tell you how fabulous the Angel Baby Bottom Balm is!!!! Emily has not really suffered from diaper rash at all (we love changing her diaper), but now that she's sleeping longer at night, she did indeed get some diaper rash. I put the Angel Baby Bottom Balm on and poof! The diaper rash was gone and has stayed gone. It's FABULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And it smells great for me!!!" Leslie B.Bellybar
"I just wanted to say how much I love your products. We are very conscious of the products we use for ourselves and our baby boy, and we love how earth friendly and body friendly you have made your products. We have used the Earth Mama Bottom Balm, New Mama Bottom Spray, Angel Baby Bottom Balm, Angel Baby Oil, Natural Nipple Butter and Natural Stretch Oil and find that all of these products are top of the line. I have recommended them to all of my friends with children. Not only are your products safe, but they are incredibly effective. Thank you for making high quality products that are perfect for our angel baby and his earth mama." Jodi R. P. Castle Rock, CO
"I had my baby this past November and due to his congenital heart defect and other complications we are still in the ICU at Children's Hospital in Boston. He had gotten his first diaper rash and I brought in the Angel Baby Bottom Balm and it cleared it right up! Not only that, he gets fussy when being changed, but settles right down when I put the balm on. The nurses love the product as well and everyone raves about it. I will certainly tell everyone how wonderful it is and I can't wait to try more products. You are truly a great company. Thank you for taking the time to make such a great product, it has made our hospital life a little easier :-)" Becca mom to Jasper!
"We really love your Bottom Balm as well and that is something which I have passed onto a number of friends. It was first recommended to me by a maternity nurse here in the UK when I first had my baby and ever since I started using it, I loved it and had my mums bring back more every-time she travelled to the UK to visit me. These little jars last forever and we have them stashed everywhere - changing station, diaper bags, in the car, the pram, my purse! Since then, I have also passed on some jars to friends in Germany and Switzerland and they too have grown addicted to it. Luckily we all have families in the US to carry these little jars of love back to us. It is wonderful to have such an effective balm which is all natural and organic and doesn't smell medicated or artificial. It outperforms all the medicated stuff on the market and everyone who has tried it really loves it for their babies. A bonus side benefit - the scent (can't find the correct words to describe it but the clean smell) seems to neutralize the strong smell of older babies' wet nappies once they start weaning. We love your products and thank you and your team for being devoted to making our lives with our new angels that much more enjoyable, naturally!"
Many thanks again! Laura
"Just wanted to write and say thanks for a TERRIFIC product! I've only used the Angel Baby Bottom Balm, but am excited to try other products and wanted to let you know you have one new happy customer! I was turned on to the Bottom Balm by a friend in another state and was excited to learn at Babyworks the other day that you are an Oregon company! The Angel Baby Bottom Balm has been such a wonderful product for my son who gets very mild diaper irritation on occasion, but who also wears cloth diapers, so I had to be careful about what I put on him. Then recently I scraped my arm on a tree and used the Bottom Balm on the large scraped area. Healed me up perfectly!"
Thanks again! Kimberly P. Portland, OR
"I can't tell you how thrilled I was to receive your Angel Baby Kit. I want only the best for my angel baby and your products are it! Thanks for your wonderful baby line... I feel great about using them on my precious one." CatherineCharlestown, MA
"The nine women in my book club went bananas when I presented an Angel Baby Kit to our new mom Theresa! They loved the Earth Mama Angel Baby products!" Barb R. Tualatin, OR
"I received some Angel Baby Bath Blossoms as a gift for Christmas and used it tonight on my little angel within 20 minutes of her bath she was sound asleep!! What an amazing product!! Incredible!!!! Thank you so much I will certainly be ordering more of it!" Becky W. LaGrange, GA
"I just got my order for Angel Baby Lotion and Angel Baby Shampoo and Body Wash. It's great to finally find something safe and organic without parabens. My son's skin drank it right up and he smells so yummy. It reminds us of orange creamsicles. My husband, my baby and myself all love it. Thank you so much for providing all these great, and most of all - SAFE products." Mary C. Middletown, NY
"My baby uses your Angel Baby Lotion like it's going out of style. This the ONLY thing that works for his eczema on his poor little back. My son is happier and healthier because of you! I appreciate it beyond words!" Kristin T. General EMAB enthusiast, New Lenox, IL
"My son Tristan and I absolutely adore your products — we use the Angel Baby Lotion, Angel Baby Shampoo & Body Wash and Natural Nipple Butter daily (I put this on his cradle cap and chapped cheeks, too)! Thanks for making such amazing, worry-free products for mama and baby :)" Marianne and Tristan
"Oh my yumminess! I love the products I have ordered over the last year from Earth Mama Angel Baby!! I am constantly searching for organic options for myself and my lovely babies. I have used the Earth Mama Body Butter, Angel Baby Lotion and Angel Baby Shampoo and Body Wash exclusively for a year now. My husband LOVES the smell of our skin, and since we all smell gently of tangerines and line dried linens, who can blame him! Your products are good for the skin, the environment and greatly put my mind at ease as to what I am slathering all over my kids, and myself. Your washes and lotions are heavenly, thank you!" Andrea
"We love your Earth Mama and Angel Baby products! I used most of your Postpartum Recovery products. For more than a year we have regularly used the Angel Baby Lotion, Angel Baby Shampoo and Body Wash, Angel Baby Bottom Balm, and Angel Baby Diaper Rash Soap on our 16 mo. old daughter. We also use the Angel Baby Bath Blossoms on occasion. We love the new 1 Liter refill size in the Angel Baby Shampoo and Body Wash and wish the lotion also came in a larger bottle. Seems like we go through a ton of it! Thanks for making gentle, safe, and wonderfully-smelling products! Jennifer S. Austin, TX
"I had another Angel Baby this year and have used nothing but your products on her delicate skin. It may be just me, but she always seems to smile even wider when I use the Angel Baby Shampoo and Body Wash and finish off with the Angel Baby Lotion and Angel Baby Oil after her bath. Thank you, thank you, thank you for selling natural, chemical-free products that I can feel good about putting on my Angel Babies!" Cathy from Westmont