Triumphant Elder: Battling fungal infections – with a little help from the plant kingdom

by Tim Keim, EYT500, Yoga Therapist

Good grief, but it can be embarrassing and persistent – toenail fungus that is. Related conditions include ringworm, athlete’s foot, jock itch and barber’s itch. They all come under the heading of dermatophytosis or common fungal infections of the skin. Burning, itching, redness and a weeping moistness are all typical.

Prescription meds include clotrimazole, econazole, ketoconazole, miconazole, tioconazole, terbinafine and amorolfine. Topically they seldom incur side effects, but oral meds may induce nausea, diarrhea, headache, rash, taste disturbances, liver toxicity and interactions with other medicines.

Equal to or even more effective than prescription meds, and a lot cheaper, are age-old, easy-to-find remedies like tea tree oil, neem oil, oregano oil, garlic, thyme oil and lavender oil. If you happen to have fresh ingredients around like garlic, thyme, turmeric and oregano you can make a skin wash decoction for topical application and as a stimulating drink. A simple paste can also be made of the oils using wheat, oat or chickpea flour. All the above herbs have strong, wide-ranging antimicrobial power. Oregano oil must be diluted before skin contact and never use the undiluted essential oil on mucous membranes.

I and my friends have used these remedies to good effect.

Cold sores can be painful, unsightly and embarrassing. When I feel that tingle of an emerging herpes cold sore, I reach for a sure fire viral killer, oregano oil. One or two drops mixed in five or six drops of olive oil applied two to three times a day will generally stop an outbreak in its tracks. Oral consumption of over-the-counter oregano/olive oil will compound therapeutic action.

A friend recently had a fungal skin infection that defied pharmaceutical treatment. A few days of oregano oil cured him without relapse.

Our housekeeper, who is constantly being exposed to many fungal organisms as she works, developed a fungal infection diagnosed as poison ivy. A steroid shot suppressed the immune reaction, but the infection returned with itching and burning. I recommended tea tree oil to her, and the condition resolved within a few days.

Also, I had a skin cancer on my ear so I made an appointment to see my dermatologist. Before the appointment I began treating the lesion with my daily massage oil that includes 50 percent hemp oil. By the time I saw the doctor, the tender, scabby little sore was nearly gone.

Why are these plants so effective? Plants produce multiple disease-fighting constituents to ward off constant attack in the wild. They confer that antimicrobial power upon us when we use them, too. One of these components is terpenes, an accelerant that helps skin absorb the oil.

As we have seen, disease organisms can develop immunity to pharmaceuticals. Nature is smarter, nimbler and faster than we are at fighting infection. Constant naturally- occurring evolutionary updates in plant biology effectively fight the latest mutated versions of infectious agents—for free.

Essential oils are widely available in health food stores and websites like Organic India or Banyan Botanical.

Tim Keim is an IAYT certified yoga therapist, and has been teaching yoga for 15 years. Keim can be heard Saturday and Sunday mornings from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 91.5-FM, WUNC. He can be reached at