Fungal Rashes – The Fungus Among Us
It lurks in locker room showers, and piles of used towels. It creeps in garden soil and borrowed shoes. It even exists in the very air that we breathe and every surface we touch. Fungus! Waiting to infect us with unspeakable rashes that can be hard to cure. Short of living in a bubble, what can we do about this dreadful epidemic?
Well, maybe it’s not as bad as all that. Fungus is certainly among us. It’s all around us, and even inside us as a beneficial part of our internal microfauna. The Fungi Kingdom1)https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/158134.php comprises yeasts, molds, mushrooms, and more. They’ve existed on the planet for at least a billion years. We decidedly younger humans evolved in a world that is positively loaded with various forms of fungus. Under normal circumstances, our bodies know just how to handle them.
Once in awhile circumstances come about that causes an imbalance in the fungus in or on us, and we develop an issue. External rashes like jock itch, ringworm, or athlete’s foot appear. Internal issues such as yeast infections, Candida overgrowth in the digestive tract, or thrush can arise. Not to worry. While there are many prescription and over the counter meds that can help, Nature itself also offers up quite a few helpful, antifungal plants known for assisting with fungal infections. So don’t worry… you don’t need to live in a bubble. It probably has fungus on it anyway. Instead let’s reach for some of the best herbs and some of the best foods for fighting fungal infections.
How to Recognize a Fungal Rash
According to the folks over at Healthline, “Candida skin infections can occur on almost any area of the body, but they are more commonly found in intertriginous regions, where two skin areas may touch or rub together. Such areas include the armpits, groin, and skin folds, as well as the area between your fingers and toes. The fungus thrives in warm, moist, and sweaty conditions.”2)https://www.healthline.com/health/skin/candida-fungus#Symptoms3 Risk factors for developing a fungal rash include:
- Being overweight
- Tight-fitting underwear (males)
- Thyroid conditions (seem to generate a predilection for fungal infections)
- High sugar diet (fungus feeds on it and thrives in the lowered body pH that high sugar intake causes)
- Autoimmunity disorders
- Those who have recently taken a round of antibiotics
- Infants (diaper rash)
Candida by the way is a genus of yeast-like fungus that is responsible for many, if not most, fungal infections, both inside the body and on the skin. It’s not the only fungus that can cause a skin outbreak. Trichophyton rubrum, for example, is the fungus most responsible for ringworm. Candida is, however, certainly the naughtiest of the naughty fungi that can become pathogenic and cause fungal rashes.
Candida is the worst of the bad fungi.
How to tell if your rash is a fungal infection
Fungal rashes are often easy to recognize. First is the location. They occur most frequently in the persistently dark, moist or sweaty areas of the body (groin, armpits, feet, inside mouth). Second is the appearance of the rash. Fungal infections on the skin tend to have a red, thick look to them, and are very itchy. Symptoms can include:
- Red rash, sometimes with darker red or purple patches
- Marked itchiness, and sometimes soreness
- Scaling or flaking of the skin (looks like you’re losing layers of skin)
- A white film over the skin can sometimes show
- Pustules can occur (look like little whiteheads)
- Red and white mouth lesions in the case of thrush3)https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/dental-health-thrush
- Characteristic ring or roughly circular shape in the case of ringworm4)https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/ringworm-of-the-skin-cause
- Pungent odor in some cases
Definitely take a trip to your doctor if you develop a rash that you’ve never had before, that resists over the counter treatments, or if you’re just not sure what you’re dealing with. Once you know what you’ve got, you can make better informed decisions on how to treat the issue.
Best Antifungal Herbs
A list of all the plants that have antifungal properties would be very long indeed, but that’s hardly surprising. When you live your entire life outdoors in the moist earth, it becomes necessary to develop ways to resist rot. Breaking things down (decomposing) is, after all, the primary job of fungus. Plants the world over have found ways to keep themselves from being decomposed before they’re ready. These anti-fungal properties are what humans tap into when we use plant based remedies to fight fungal infections.
I’m going to walk you through the steps to create a few of these remedies that assist with fungal rashes. Before I get to the recipes, let’s look at some of my favorite antifungal herbs.
Calendula flower (Calendula officinalis), or pot marigold, is an all-around winner for promoting healthy skin. I use calendula to support wound healing, rash healing, even minor burn healing. Calendula can help with acne prone skin, and is supportive to the liver, which is so important in fighting rash outbreaks. It’s also helpful for reducing the inflammation of fungal rashes, and can assist with the itching and discomfort. Calendula is safe for babies as a topical balm, and so makes a great ingredient for an herbal diaper rash remedy. You can find an article with more about the uses of calendula and how to grow it footnoted here.5)https://gardensall.com/calendula-edible-medicinal-pesticide-and-beauty-all-in-one/
Black Walnut Hulls
Black walnut hulls (Juglan nigra L.) are different from the softer English walnuts that you find in markets. They are smaller and much harder to crack. Black walnut has a history of use as a dye, a food source, and a quality wood source.6)https://www.herballegacy.com/Berry_History.html As a medicinal, black walnut is powerfully antifungal, antiparasitic, and antibacterial. Hulls, bark, and leaves are considered medicinal, although the fleshy hulls surrounding the nuts are the most commonly used. The juice of black walnut kernels or an infused oil of the hulls applied externally are a traditional remedy for ringworm. Taken internally black walnut is known for reducing yeast overgrowth, known as candida albicans, the internal version of fungal infections. Black walnut hulls are a very strong herbal remedy, and should only be taken internally under the care of a holistic practitioner. It can be toxic to the liver and kidneys if taken in excess or for too long a time. Nursing moms should avoid it entirely, as black walnut is a traditional herb for stopping milk supply. As an external remedy, black walnut hulls are safer to work with, and are a common ingredient in antifungal remedies.
What can’t garlic do? The list would be shorter. This little bulb from the Allium family (onions, shallots, leeks) packs an antimicrobial punch that evidence based research has been able to prove again and again. Garlic’s ability to drive down inflammation, boost the immune system,7)https://gardensall.com/best-herbs-for-colds-and-flu/3/ and fight fungal infections makes it an aromatic but effective ingredient for natural antifungal remedies. This is thanks in part to the organosulfur compound in garlic known as ajoene, a strong antifungal against Candida and other fungi.8)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC203719/ Garlic can be used topically or taken internally to assist from within. Eat as much as you like. For those who don’t want to risk smelling like garlic, odorless capsules are also available, and have been demonstrated to be effective as a medicinal.
Want to grow your own garlic? It’s easier than you think. Read our article for tips on How to Grow Garlic!9)https://gardensall.com/how-to-grow-garlic/
Tea Tree Oil
The essential oil of the Australian tea tree, or melaleuca, has shown great success at fighting athlete’s foot and other fungal infections. In vitro studies have been able to establish a firm ability to reduce Candida overgrowth.10)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27092733
Anecdotal evidence of tea tree oil’s effectiveness is extremely high. For many, a neat application (meaning undiluted) of tea tree oil is the go-to remedy for fungal rashes, including toenail fungus. Tea tree oil is considered safe to apply undiluted to the skin, but I still recommend diluting it to avoid irritation. Like garlic, it can be strong smelling, so beware if you intend to venture out into the public eye (or nose, as it were) after applying tea tree oil!
Other Useful Herbs
As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of overlap in the herbal world for fighting fungal infections. This article would be book length if I attempted to list even half of them. For the purpose of formulating your own antifungal remedy, here is a short listing of other herbs known for their antifungal properties.
- Lavender blooms or essential oil
- Clove buds or essential oil
- Chaparral leaf
- Oregano leaf or essential oil (this essential oil can be a skin irritant)
- Plantain leaf or root (from the Plantago genus, grows wild)
- Lemongrass essential oil
Antifungal Salve Recipe
Now that you know which herbs to reach for, let’s make a handy antifungal salve. Salves are much easier to make than antifungal creams and they last longer, so for homemade remedies we recommend salves to start.
All it takes is 1 ounce (by weight) of beeswax and 1 cup of herb infused oil. You can also add up to a teaspoon of essential oil, though I personally find that amount to be much too strong. I usually halve that amount. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you can make a salve, you need to make a medicinal herb-infused oil.
How to Make an Antifungal Herb Infused Oil – Oven Method
Gather your chosen dried herbs and about 2 cups of oil. Coconut oil or olive oil are both great choices for an antifungal remedy, as both of them have fungus fighting components. Coconut oil likes to stay solid at room temperature up until about 76 degrees Fahrenheit.
Coconut oil or olive oil are great for antifungal remedies.
If your kitchen is cooler than that, you can heat the coconut oil gently in the oven or a double boiler until it’s liquid. You can also use the olive oil to soak the herbs as detailed below, and then just glob some coconut oil on the top before infusing. Don’t get fussy about this… it doesn’t have to be exact. Here’s one antifungal recipe:
Antifungal Oil Recipe
- ½ cup dried calendula blooms
- ½ cup dried chaparral leaf or black walnut hulls
- ¼ cup plantain leaf
- 1 tsp clove buds
- 2 garlic cloves (optional, will make for a stinky oil)
- Enough oil to completely cover the herb
Antifungal herbs tend to work well together. This blend is definitely on the astringent side, which helps to dry out the rash.
- Set your oven to its lowest temperature, usually 170 degrees
- Add the herb mix to an oven safe glass or otherwise nonreactive bowl
- Add enough oil to completely cover the mixture
- Stir with a chopstick to ensure that the oil is fully incorporated and covering the herbs
- Once the oven comes to temperature, shut it off
- Add the bowl to the oven, and close the door
DO NOT OPEN the oven door until 2-6 hours have passed. After 2 hours, remove the bowl from the oven, and strain off the herbs. What you have left is your antifungal herb infused oil.
How to Make Herbal Salve
- 1 cup of herb infused oil
- 1oz by weight of beeswax
- Essential oil of choice*
- Heat safe containers to hold the salve
*Remember the essential oils mentioned previously, such as Tea Tree, Lavender, Clove or Lemongrass.
Prepare a double boiler. If you don’t have one, then rig one up with 2 different sized saucepans. Place a little water into the larger one, sit the smaller one inside of the larger one, and presto! You have a double boiler. The smaller pan should be of nonreactive material to avoid contaminating your oils.
- Add the beeswax into the double boiler. The heat should be medium high, enough to keep the water at a low boil.
- Once the beeswax has melted, add in 1 cup of your infused oil. It will resolidify part of the beeswax.
- Let it steep until the mixture has fully melted into liquid again.
- Lay out the containers, so that they will be ready. Have extra containers prepared just in case.
Now here’s where you have to be fast:
- Once the salve mixture is fully liquid again, remove it from the heat. It will harden fast.
- Quickly stir in up to 1 teaspoon of your chosen essential oil (I tend to use around 1/2 tsp).
Pour into containers and let sit to harden. You can add them to the fridge to speed up this process, or just let them harden on the counter. Afterwards, cover, always label and date your remedies, and store in a cool, dry place. No need to refrigerate. This salve should keep for about a year. Apply as needed to help with fungal rashes.
For a visual tutorial on making salve, John Gallagher of Learning Herbs shows us how.
Antifungal Honey Remedy
Honey is known for its antimicrobial properties. Many know of its effectiveness at assisting with wound healing. There are even honey infused bandages in use in the medical field for treating pressure sores and staph infections. Honey also has fantastic antifungal properties. Combine it with antifungal herbs to make a handy topical remedy.11)https://www.prairiehawkbotanica.com/blog/how-to-make-herbal-honeys Some antifungal herbs good for infusing into honey include:
- Equal parts dried calendula and lavender flowers
- 1 part sage leaf to ½ part oregano leaf (use fresh herbs here to maximize essential oil extraction)
- 1 part ginger to ¼ part garlic (this one will be strong smelling)
- Equal parts chaparral and calendula
Apply topically as needed. Because honey is sticky, you may wish to keep this as an at home treatment. Leave on for at least 15 minutes, and then gently wipe or wash off. Always pat the area dry after washing, and cover over with an anti-fungal balm.
For treating fungal infections, all honeys are not equal. For the best fungus fighting ability, you really do want to source out either jarrah honey or manuka honey. Both have a demonstrated effect against various strains of fungi, especially Candida. Both are more expensive than local raw honey, but they are truly superior at fighting fungal infections.12)https://mmy.oxfordjournals.org/content/44/3/289.full
Editor’s Note: We keep Manuka Honey on hand for medicinal use, and only use it at the onset of a cold or flu. Now we will also use it as needed for fungal infections.
Candida Overgrowth or Candidiasis
I promised you a section on foods that you can eat to help in healing from fungal infections. First let me distinguish between fungal rashes, and an overgrowth of Candida in the body. Candida overgrowth, also called yeast overgrowth or candidiasis, has been linked to numerous health issues. It can be very hard to diagnose because the symptoms are both wide-ranging and variable from one person to the next. A visit to the doctor is usually required to determine proper diagnosis. Typical symptoms of fungal overgrowth in the body may include:
- Chronic yeast infections
- Chronic urinary tract infections
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Digestive disorders
- Sinus and allergy problems
- Fatigue issues
- Weakened immune system
- Chronic fungal rash outbreaks
- Brain fog
The causes for candida overgrowth are numerous, including taking antibiotics, which upsets the balance of healthy gut bacteria and creates an open invitation for candida overgrowth. The biggest culprit in my opinion is the high sugar diet that so many Americans are eating today. It creates an environment that not only feeds the Candida, but also disrupts the body’s natural pH level, killing off necessary beneficial bacteria.
As the highly informative team at The Candida Diet website explains, “Take a walk through the supermarket and sugar is everywhere you look. It appears in the most unlikely places too. Processed meats, tortillas, pasta sauce, salad dressings and cereals are all surprising sources of added sugar. And the sugary diet that most of us eat is exactly what Candida Albicans needs to thrive.”13)https://www.thecandidadiet.com/an-introduction-to-candida/
The typical American diet, high in sugar, is exactly what Candida Albicans needs to thrive.
Bouncing back from candidiasis takes a lot more than a salve. Time is required, and a good plan of action that includes dietary restrictions, lifestyle changes, antifungals, and probiotics. Many of the herbs mentioned in the previous section can be taken internally as a tincture or tea to assist in tamping down Candida, though I want to stress that if dietary changes aren’t made, you aren’t likely to cure your candidiasis. I’ve said this many times, and it remains absolutely true. Plant based remedies can be terrific allies in healing yourself, but they cannot mask a poor lifestyle. Be sure to check with your herbalist or other holistic practitioner to work out an appropriate protocol that can tackle the root cause of your problem while also treating the symptoms and effect.
Don’t worry about feeling deprived while you’re going through those dietary changes. There are plenty of delicious, anti-fungal foods that you can incorporate into your daily diet. They are not only nutritious, but also help to restore normal Candida levels in the body. Here’s a quick listing of some tasty, great for you, antifungal foods.
Best Foods for an Anti-Candida Diet
Coconut Oil – Loaded with lauric acid and caprylic acid, coconut oil is a fungus fighting master. This oil’s high flash point makes it an ideal oil to cook and bake with.
Rutabaga – This root vegetable is highly anti-fungal, almost in a class by itself actually. Unlike potatoes, and even sweet potatoes, which the beginning level of an anti-Candida diet will restrict, rutabaga is safe to eat at all stages of an anti-fungal diet. It’s close cousin, turnips, are also anti-fungal, though to a lesser degree.
Ginger – Ginger does have antimicrobial properties, but I really like it for its digestion soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. Candida overgrowth often goes hand in hand with an inflamed gut. Ginger can help by calming the system down.
Garlic – Yup, garlic again. Garlic contributes its antifungal and immune boosting properties. It also tastes good.
A few other antifungal honorable mentions include:
- Olive oil
- Pumpkin seeds
- Cayenne pepper
- Apple cider vinegar
- Wild caught salmon
You may find that some of these foods must be avoided at first, and incorporated in later on. Remember to find a workable antifungal diet, and stick to it. Antifungal diets have proven very successful at helping to reduce and control candidiasis.
Though fungal infections and yeast overgrowth can be uncomfortable, and difficult to eradicate, there’s no need to feel helpless. Fungus isn’t actually out to get us. When we make the necessary lifestyle changes and use the right remedies, fungal infections are usually brought under control quite easily. Nature is full of empowering herbs and foods that are here to help.
Fortunately gardeners love vegetables and healthy foods, and usually have ready access to them. Fungi and candida are to our bodies what plant fungus and bad garden bugs are in the garden. We need to feed and encourage more good bugs to handle the bad. Same with candida.
Nature is full of empowering herbs and foods to help us.
Jennifer is a clinical herbalist and health coach, specializing in autoimmune diseases like rheumatiod arthritis. Her interest in plant medicine led Jennifer to spend years studying herbology, physiology, and nutrition. She works one-on-one with her clients via her herbalist and health coaching business, Prairie Hawk Botanica. Jennifer lives on a homestead in rural Texas with her husband, 2 children, and various animals. In her spare time she loves to be in her large herb and vegetable garden. Sharing herb knowledge and her love of natural healing with others is her calling.
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