The antimicrobial activity of essential oils extracted from a variety of aromatic plants, often used in the Portuguese gastronomy was studied in vitro by the agar diffusion method. The essential oils of thyme, oregano, rosemary, verbena, basil, peppermint, pennyroyal and mint were tested against Gram-positive (Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium perfringens, Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecium, Enterococcus faecalis, and Staphylococcus epidermidis) and Gram-negative strains (Salmonella enterica, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa). For most essential oils examined, S. aureus, was the most susceptible bacteria, while P. aeruginosa showed, in general, least susceptibility. Among the eight essential oils evaluated, thyme, oregano and pennyroyal oils showed the greatest antimicrobial activity, followed by rosemary, peppermint and verbena, while basil and mint showed the weakest antimicrobial activity. Most of the essential oils considered in this study exhibited a significant inhibitory effect. Thyme oil showed a promising inhibitory activity even at low concentration, thus revealing its potential as a natural preservative in food products against several causal agents of foodborne diseases and food spoilage. In general, the results demonstrate that, besides flavoring the food, the use of aromatic herbs in gastronomy can also contribute to a bacteriostatic effect against pathogens.
Keywords: Antimicrobial activity; aromatic plants; essential oils; food spoilage bacteria; foodborne bacteria.