In this work we studied the local anaesthetic activity of the essential oil obtained from Lavandula angustifolia Mill., a medicinal plant traditionally used as an antispasmodic. We compared its activity to the essential oils obtained from two citrus fruits, Citrus reticulata Blanco and Citrus limon (L.) Burm. f., which have no medical uses. Biological tests were also performed on the major pure components of L. angustifolia Mill. essential oil: linalol and linalyl acetate as determined by GC and confirmed by GC-MS. Anaesthetic activity was evaluated in vivo in the rabbit conjunctival reflex test, and in vitro in a rat phrenic nerve-hemidiaphragm preparation. The essential oil of L. angustifolia, linalyl acetate and linanol (0.01-10 micrograms/ml) but not the oils of Citrus reticulata and Citrus limon were able to drastically reduce, in a dose-dependent manner, the electrically evoked contractions of rat phrenic-hemidiaphragm. In the rabbit conjunctival reflex test treatment with a solution of essential oil of L. angustifolia, as well as linalyl acetate and linalol (30-2500 micrograms/ml administered in the conjunctival sac) allow a dose-dependent increase in the number of stimuli necessary to provoke the reflex, thus confirming in vivo the local anaesthetic activity observed in vitro.