Essential oils from anise, hyssop, thyme, ginger, camomile and sandalwood were screened for their inhibitory effect against herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) in vitro on RC-37 cells using a plaque reduction assay. Genital herpes is a chronic, persistent infection spreading efficiently and silently as sexually transmitted disease through the population. Antiviral agents currently applied for the treatment of herpesvirus infections include acyclovir and its derivatives. The inhibitory concentrations (IC50) were determined at 0.016%, 0.0075%, 0.007%, 0.004%, 0.003% and 0.0015% for anise oil, hyssop oil, thyme oil, ginger oil, camomile oil and sandalwood oil, respectively. A clearly dose-dependent virucidal activity against HSV-2 could be demonstrated for all essential oils tested. In order to determine the mode of the inhibitory effect, essential oils were added at different stages during the viral infection cycle. At maximum noncytotoxic concentrations of the essential oils, plaque formation was significantly reduced by more than 90% when HSV-2 was preincubated with hyssop oil, thyme oil or ginger oil. However, no inhibitory effect could be observed when the essential oils were added to the cells prior to infection with HSV-2 or after the adsorption period. These results indicate that essential oils affected HSV-2 mainly before adsorption probably by interacting with the viral envelope. Camomile oil exhibited a high selectivity index and seems to be a promising candidate for topical therapeutic application as virucidal agents for treatment of herpes genitalis.