Toxicity of some essential plant oils. Clinical and experimental study

Clin Toxicol. 1981 Dec;18(12):1485-98. doi: 10.3109/15563658108990357.


Commercial preparations of essences of sage, hyssop, thuja, and cedar have caused human intoxication in eight cases, from which tonico-clonic convulsions were the major symptom. The experimental study of the toxic properties of commercialized essential oils of sage and hyssop has revealed that their convulsant action was of central nervous system origin in unanesthetized rats, as proven by electrocortical records. The toxicity of the hyssop oil seems to be more powerful than that of sage, since the dose limit from which the cortical events are only subclinical is 0.08 g/kg for hyssop oil and 0.3 g/kg for sage oil. Above 0.13 g/kg for hyssop oil and 0.50 g/kg for sage oil, the convulsions appeared and became lethal above 1.25 g/kg with hyssop oil and 3.2 g/kg with sage oil. The daily repeated injection of subclinical doses revealed the cumulative toxic effect of hyssop oil, since the same low dose induced electrocortical clonic seizures. The toxicity of each oil appeared to be related to the presence of terpenic ketones, camphor in sage commercial oil, camphor and thujone in sage Dalmatian oil, thujone in thuja and cedar oils, and pinocamphone in hyssop oil. The convulsant properties of camphor are well known. The neurotoxicity of thujone and pinocamphone is demonstrated in rats for the first time.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Chromatography
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microelectrodes
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / chemically induced
  • Oils, Volatile / adverse effects
  • Oils, Volatile / analysis
  • Oils, Volatile / toxicity*
  • Poison Control Centers
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Seizures / chemically induced*


  • Oils, Volatile