A wide range of essential oils from sage, mint, hyssop, camomile and oregano were tested for their inhibitory effects against nine strains of gram-negative bacteria and six strains of gram-positive bacteria. Three principles were used in describing the antimicrobial effects of the essential oils: the overall antimicrobial activity determined by use of an impedometric method, the bactericidal effect determined as colony forming units after exposure to the essential oils, and the number of apparent dead cells determined after further enrichment. The data obtained indicate that while the essential oils of sage, mint, hyssop and camomile had generally a bacteriostatic activity, the essential oil from oregano appeared to be bactericidal at concentrations above 400 ppm, probably because of high contents in phenolic compounds. For the other essential oils, the chemical analysis was unable to explain the antimicrobial effect. The bacteriostatic activity was more marked against gram-positive bacteria; in contrast, the bactericidal activity was greatest against gram-negative bacteria. The most sensitive strain was Escherichia coli O157:H7 and, of the gram-positive species even at the lowest oil concentrations, Listeria innocua was the most sensitive. The data obtained from the study of the bactericidal effect of oregano essential oil indicated that the major part of the species was irreversibly inactivated, i.e. they could not be revived by enrichment.