The virucidal effect of peppermint oil, the essential oil of Mentha piperita, against herpes simplex virus was examined. The inhibitory activity against herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) was tested in vitro on RC-37 cells using a plaque reduction assay. The 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) of peppermint oil for herpes simplex virus plaque formation was determined at 0.002% and 0.0008% for HSV-1 and HSV-2, respectively. Peppermint oil exhibited high levels of virucidal activity against HSV-1 and HSV-2 in viral suspension tests. At noncytotoxic concentrations of the oil, plaque formation was significantly reduced by 82% and 92% for HSV-1 and HSV-2, respectively. Higher concentrations of peppermint oil reduced viral titers of both herpesviruses by more than 90%. A clearly time-dependent activity could be demonstrated, after 3 h of incubation of herpes simplex virus with peppermint oil an antiviral activity of about 99% could be demonstrated. In order to determine the mode of antiviral action of the essential oil, peppermint oil was added at different times to the cells or viruses during infection. Both herpesviruses were significantly inhibited when herpes simplex virus was pretreated with the essential oil prior to adsorption. These results indicate that peppermint oil affected the virus before adsorption, but not after penetration into the host cell. Thus this essential oil is capable to exert a direct virucidal effect on HSV. Peppermint oil is also active against an acyclovir resistant strain of HSV-1 (HSV-1-ACV(res)), plaque formation was significantly reduced by 99%. Considering the lipophilic nature of the oil which enables it to penetrate the skin, peppermint oil might be suitable for topical therapeutic use as virucidal agent in recurrent herpes infection.