Essential oils could be a cheap and effective alternative to antibiotics and potentially used to combat drug-resistant hospital superbugs, according to a study by Greek scientists.
Professor Yiannis Samaras and Dr Effimia Eriotou, from the Technological Educational Institute of Ionian Islands, tested the antimicrobial activity of eight plant essential oils. They found that thyme essential oil was the most effective and could practically eliminate bacteria within an hour.
The essential oils of thyme and cinnamon were found to be particularly efficient antibacterial agents against Staphylococcus species. Strains of these bacteria are common inhabitants of the skin and some may cause infection in immunocompromised individuals. Drug-resistant strains, such as MRSA, are difficult to treat. “Not only are essential oils a cheap and effective treatment option for antibiotic-resistant strains, but decreased use of antibiotics will help minimise the risk of new strains of antibiotic resistant micro-organisms emerging,’ said Professor Samaras.
The Greek team believes essential oils could have diverse medical and industrial applications.
“The oils – or their active ingredients – could be easily incorporated into antimicrobial creams or gels for external application. In the food industry the impregnation of food packaging with essential oils has already been successfully trialled. They could also be included in foodstuffs to replace synthetic chemicals that act as preservatives,” they said.