Screening of the Antibacterial Effects of a Variety of Essential Oils on Respiratory Tract Pathogens, Using a Modified Dilution Assay Method

J Infect Chemother. 2001 Dec;7(4):251-4. doi: 10.1007/s101560170022.


The purpose of this study was to examine the antibacterial effects of a wide variety of essential oils on major respiratory tract pathogens. The antibacterial activity of 14 essential oils and their major components was evaluated by agar-plate dilution assay under sealed conditions, with agar used as a stabilizer for homogeneous dispersion. Of the selected strains of four major bacteria causing respiratory tract infection, Haemophilus influenzae was most susceptible to the essential oils, followed by Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenes. Staphylococcus aureus was less susceptible. No cross-resistance was observed between penicillin-sensitive and penicillin-resistant S. pneumoniae. Escherichia coli, used as a control bacterium, showed the lowest susceptibility. Essential oils containing aldehyde or phenol as a major component showed the highest antibacterial activity, followed by the essential oils containing terpene alcohols. Other essential oils, containing terpene ketone, or ether, had much weaker activity, and an oil containing terpene hydrocarbon was inactive. Based on these findings, thyme (wild, red, and geraniol types), cinnamon bark, lemongrass, perilla, and peppermint oils were selected for further evaluation of their effects on respiratory tract infection.

MeSH terms

  • Agar
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacteriological Techniques
  • Gram-Positive Cocci / drug effects
  • Haemophilus influenzae / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Oils, Volatile / chemistry
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / microbiology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Agar