Biological Activities of Essential Oils: From Plant Chemoecology to Traditional Healing Systems

Molecules. 2017 Jan 1;22(1):70. doi: 10.3390/molecules22010070.


Essential oils are complex mixtures of hydrocarbons and their oxygenated derivatives arising from two different isoprenoid pathways. Essential oils are produced by glandular trichomes and other secretory structures, specialized secretory tissues mainly diffused onto the surface of plant organs, particularly flowers and leaves, thus exerting a pivotal ecological role in plant. In addition, essential oils have been used, since ancient times, in many different traditional healing systems all over the world, because of their biological activities. Many preclinical studies have documented antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities of essential oils in a number of cell and animal models, also elucidating their mechanism of action and pharmacological targets, though the paucity of in human studies limits the potential of essential oils as effective and safe phytotherapeutic agents. More well-designed clinical trials are needed in order to ascertain the real efficacy and safety of these plant products.

Keywords: antimicrobial activity; ethnobotany; isoprenoids; monoterpenes; oral healthcare; traditional healing systems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Flowers / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Oils, Volatile / chemistry
  • Oils, Volatile / therapeutic use*
  • Plant Oils / chemistry
  • Plant Oils / therapeutic use*
  • Wound Healing / drug effects


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Plant Oils