Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Essential Oils High in 1,8-Cineole of Mediterranean Flavoring Plants: Health Benefits

Written By

Sílvia Macedo Arantes, Ana Teresa Caldeira and Maria Rosário Martins

Submitted: 11 February 2022 Reviewed: 21 February 2022 Published: 02 June 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.103831

From the Edited Volume

Essential Oils - Advances in Extractions and Biological Applications

Edited by Mozaniel Santana de Oliveira and Eloisa Helena de Aguiar Andrade

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Aromatic flavoring plants are important ingredients of the Mediterranean diet, one of the healthiest and most sustainable dietary forms, often associated with greater longevity as well as contributing to the reduction of some chronic pathologies with high mortality and morbidity. Their essential oils (EOs) are increasingly used as therapeutic agents and food supplements, due to their antioxidants, anti-inflammatory or anti-tumoral properties. The Health benefits of essential oils are closely related with their chemical constituents. The 1,8-cineole, a naturally cyclic oxygenated monoterpene, has been attributed several biological properties such as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory or antitumoral. Nevertheless, the EO properties are attributed not only to their main components but also to the synergistic effect of minor components. This review chapter focused on the chemical composition and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential of EOs of flavoring Lamiaceae plants, with high content in 1,8-cineole, including chemotypes of genera Lavandula, Calamintha, Rosmarinus, and Thymus, often used in the Mediterranean diet.


  • natural products
  • 1
  • 8-cineole
  • antioxidants
  • anti-inflammatory properties

1. Introduction

Aromatic plants are increasingly used as therapeutic agents and as food supplements, along with industrial synthesis products. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 80% of the world population uses products based on plant extracts and/or their active components for various purposes, including health care and phytotherapy [1, 2, 3].

Essential oils (EOs) are volatile compounds, products of secondary metabolic processes of aromatic plants and despite being practically insoluble in water, can be carried away by water vapor. They are largely obtained by water distillation or using steam distillation, from different parts of the plant, including the whole plant or just the wood, roots, leaves or flowers [4, 5]. Other processes to obtain oils from plants include expression, solvent extraction, CO2 extraction, maceration, cold pressure extraction [6]. Indeed, the species, the plant geographical conditions, and the part of the plant used as well as the extraction method used will be determinants for the EOs chemical profile [7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. Otherwise, in the distillation process, thermal degradation of sensitive compounds, the photo-oxidation of light-sensitive compounds or the hydrolysis of esterified compounds are factors that can affect the chemical profile of EOs [7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12].

Aromatic, spice and medicinal plants are part of the Mediterranean diet, recognized by the WHO as a healthy and health-promoting type of diet [1, 2]. They also represent a growing interest in the food industry and are often used in alternative or complementary therapies in conventional medicine [13, 14]. Due to their effectiveness and, mainly, due to the lower number of adverse effects, when compared to synthetic drugs, the use of aromatic plants as functional foods as well their EOs may be an important role in the prevention of pathologies with high mortality and morbidity, such atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, several infections, chronic inflammatory diseases, cancer and autoimmune diseases [15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20]. Some flavoring plants used in the Mediterranean diet are frequently used in Alentejo (South of Portugal) as food additives or flavors. Most of them belong to the Lamiaceae family and include Lavandula spp., Calamintha spp., Rosmarinus spp. and Thymus spp., in which EOs show chemical polymorphism with high content in 1,8-cineole and that are recognized for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential [21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36].

The genus Lavandula comprises about 32 species, commonly known as lavender, such as L. angustifolia and L. latifolia, as well as Mediterranean L. stoechas, L. pedunculata and L. viridis, often found in the southern region of Portugal. Due to their great diversity, some species have a difficult taxonomic classification due to their hybridization capacity and morphological diversity, being important to characterize them by the composition of their OEs due to their great economic importance. Lavandula EOs are generally produced by distillation, either from the flower spike or from the leaves [37, 38, 39]. Lavandula. stoechas L. subsp. luisieri (Rozeira) Rozeira, Lavandula pedunculata (Mill.) Cav. and Lavandula. viridis L’Hér, are endemic to the Iberian Peninsula and wild growth in some regions the southern region of Portugal [40]. L. luisieri and L. pedunculata can be distinguished mainly by the shapes of the bracts the length of the stalks of the ears as well as by the diversity of their EOs components [21, 41, 42]. L. viridis, known as green lavender or white lavender, and their EOs showed antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, depending on the plant polymorphism and the EO chemotype [4, 21, 43, 44, 45, 46].

The genus Calamintha consists of eight native species belonging to the Lamiaceae family, of which six species are extremely polymorphic [47]. Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta (syn. Clinopodium nepeta (L.) Kuntze) commonly known as neveda or calamint, is a perennial and quite aromatic plant and is widely distributed in the Mediterranean area [4, 40]. It is well known as a spice used in food flavoring and as an antiseptic and diuretic stimulant [48]. It is traditionally used in medicine as an antitussive and expectorant; it also has spasmolytic and anti-flatulence properties [49, 50]. Some studies report that its EO has antifungal and antibacterial activity, due to the high content of terpene derivatives [48]. It has also been reported that the EOs of this species have antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and sedative properties [51, 52, 53, 54].

The genus Rosmarinus (Lamiaceae) that grows wild in the western Mediterranean region is composed of three different species: Rosmarinus officinalis, Rosmarinus eryocalix and Rosmarinus tomentosus [55, 56]. Rosmarinus officinalis L. (Syn: Salvia rosmarinus Schleid and Rosmarinus angustifolius Mill) commonly known as rosemary is widely used worldwide and is indigenous from the Mediterranean region, spontaneous in heaths, thickets and pine forests in the Center and South of the Continent [57, 58, 59]. Hepatoprotective, antioxidant and antimicrobial effects are attributed to this medicinal plant, as well as action in rheumatic diseases and digestive problems [59, 60].

The genus Thymus (Lamiaceae), also widely distributed in the Iberian Peninsula, is a taxonomically complex group of aromatic plants, traditionally used for medicinal purposes and contains about 214 species throughout the world [61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67]. Thymus mastichina (L.) is an endemic species of the Iberian Peninsula and it is found from north to south of Portugal (generally at the interior north and at the south) [4]. Commonly known as mastic thyme or Spanish marjoram, it is characterized by simple and opposite leaves and zygomorphic and bilabial flowers. Thymus mastichina L. subsp. mastichina has great ecological plasticity and is usually present in clearings of xerophytic bushes, roadsides, and slopes, abandoned fields, pine forests, cork oaks, stony areas and rocky outcrops. They prefer removed substrates, generally siliceous, quite sandy, and also schist and limestone substrates [68]. It is widely used for its medicinal properties, including antiseptic, digestive, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, expectorant and antitussive effects, and is also used as a flavoring plant in perfume and cosmetics industry [4, 68, 69]. Thymus capitellatus Hoffmanns & Link, commonly known as “wild-thyme”, is an aromatic species endemic to the southern of Portugal, growing in sandy substrates of the Tagus and Sado basins (Extremadura, Ribatejo and Alentejo provinces of Iberian Peninsula) [70].


2. Inter- and intra-specific differences in EOs compositions

EOs are an important source of bioactive compounds with application in phytotherapy and traditional medicine. They are volatile complex compounds characterized by a strong odor and are rich in terpene compounds, namely monoterpenes (C10) and sesquiterpenes (C15), although diterpenes (C20) may also be present, as well as a variety of low molecular weight aliphatic hydrocarbons, acids, alcohols, aldehydes, acyclic esters or lactones and, exceptionally, compounds containing nitrogen (N) and sculpture (S), coumarins and phenylpropanoid homologs [6, 71, 72].

Among the different terpenes present in EOs, 1,8-cineole or eucalyptol (1,3,3-trimethyl-2-oxabicyclo [2.2.2] octane) in cyclic monoterpene oxide with a strong odor well known as the major constituent (>70%) of diverse eucalyptus species [73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78]. Some studies have demonstrated the high pharmacological potential of 1,8-cineole, namely as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound [73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81]. With no negative effects in animal experiments, 1,8-cineole is considered safe when administered at normal doses (very high value of LD50 in rats - between 1.5 and 2.5 g/kg) [82]. Nevertheless, EOs of some Lamiaceae flavoring plants showed high content in 1,8-cineole, such as some lavenders (Lavandula ssp.) [21, 22, 23, 25, 42, 43, 45, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90], rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) [29, 30, 58, 91], Calamintha nepeta [26, 27, 50, 92, 93] and some thymes (Thymus mastichina [26, 27, 36, 94, 95] and Thymus capitellatus [70, 96]).

Due to their natural function, the chemical composition of EOs is determined not only by the genus, species, and subspecies of an aromatic plant but also by external factors such as geographic location, environmental conditions of the region, cultivation conditions, season and time of harvest [7, 8, 9, 10]. In addition, it is also necessary to consider some procedures, such as techniques of plant collection or post-harvest conservation, part of the plant used, and the EOs extraction method also affects the chemical composition of EOs [7, 8, 9, 10].

Table 1 presents some of the main components of EOs of aromatic plants from the Mediterranean region of the genera Lavandula, Calamintha, Rosmarinus and Thymus, described in the bibliography. EOs of these flavoring plants present polymorphisms and, consequently, it is possible to find at least two or three chemotypes.

EOCountryPart usedMajor volatile compoundsRef.
Lavandula luisieriPortugal (Algarve)Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (26–34%);
α-Necrodyl acetate (11–18%)
Portugal (Penamacor)Flowers1,8-Cineole (3–4%); Camphor (8–21%); Linalool (1.4–3%); α-Necrodil acetate (2–20%)[22]
Portugal (Penamacor)Leaves1,8-Cineole (13.9–16.4%); Camphor (1–3%);
Linalool (1–2%); α-Necrodil acetate (8–19%)
Portugal (Alentejo)Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (19%); α-Necrodyl acetate (16%);
Lavandulol (12%); α-Necrodol (11%);
β-Caryophyllene (6%)
(Piódão region)
Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (6.4%); α-Necrodyl acetate (17%)[83]
Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (34%); Fenchone (18%);
α-Necrodyl acetate (3%)
(Toledo; Sevilha)
Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (0.4–21%); Fenchone (1.4–22%);
Camphor (2–54%)
Flowering aerial partsα-Necrodol, α-Necrodyl acetate and 1,8-Cineole, (>50%)[85]
SpainLeaves flowersCamphor (81%); 1,8-Cineole (77%)
Camphor (88%); 1,8-Cineole (85%)
Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (16%); α-Necrodyl acetate (23%)[87]
PortugalFlowering parts1,8-cineole (6–34%); fenchone (0–18%); α-Necrodyl acetate (3–17%);[88]
Lavandula pedunculataPortugal (Algarve)Flowering aerial partsFenchone (42–44%); Camphor (35–36%)[21]
Portugal (Algarve)Flowering aerial partsCamphor (41%); Fenchone (38%)[25]
Flowering aerial partsFenchone (62–70%); 1,8-Cineole (6–28%)[89]
Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (24%); Camphor (32.4%)[42]
Portugal (Coimbra)Flowering aerial partsFenchone (49%); α-Pinene (5%); α-Cadinol (4%)[42]
Portugal (North and Center)Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (2.4–56%); Fenchone (1.3–60%);
Camphor (4–48%)
PortugalFlowering parts1,8-Cineole (12–34%); fenchone (6–50%); Camphor (10–34%);[88]
Lavandula viridisPortugal (Algarve)Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (35%); Camphor (13%);
α-Pinene (9%)
Portugal (Algarve)Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (33%); Camphor (20%)[21]
Portugal (Algarve)Flowering aerial parts;1,8-Cineole (18–25%); Camphor (9–12%);
Borneol (4–5%); α- terpineol (1–4%)
Calamintha nepetaPortugal (Algarve)Aerial parts1,8-Cineole (30%); Isopulegone (36%)[26]
Portugal (Alentejo)Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (28%); Menthone (22%);
Menthol (16.3%)
Italy (Basilicata region)Flowering aerial partsPulegone (45%); Menthone (16%);
Piperitenone (13%); Piperitone (6%)
Italy (Sardinia Island)Flowering aerial partsPulegone (40–64%); Piperitenone (6–8%); Piperitenone oxide (2.5–19%)[50]
PortugalFlowering aerial partsIsomenthone (36–51%);
1,8-Cineole (21%);
trans-Isopulegone (6–8%)
SerbiaFlowering aerial partsPulegone (76%)[93]
Rosmarinus oficinallisSi Chuan Province, ChinaAerial parts1,8-Cineole (27%); α-Pinene (19%); Camphor (14%); Camphene (12%); β-Pinene (7%)[29]
IranAerial partsα-Pinene (15%); 1,8-Cineole (7%);
Linalool (15%),
Portugal (Vila Real)Aerial parts1,8-Cineole (23–67%)[58]
AlgeriaLeaves and stems1,8-Cineole (leaves: 54%,stem: 30%)[91]
Thymus mastichinaPortugal (Algarve)Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (47–61%)[94]
Portugal (Algarve)Aerial parts1,8-Cineole (41%)[26]
ItalyMicropropa-gated plantlets1,8-Cineole (58%); Linalool (25%)[95]
Spain (Murcia)Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (39–74%); Linalool (2.2–43%)[36]
Portugal (Alentejo)Flowering aerial parts1,8-Cineole (71%)[27]
Thymus capitellatusPortugal (Ribatejo)Aerial parts
1,8-Cineole (59%); Borneol (10%)[96]
(Porto Alto)
Aerial parts1,8-Cineole (48%)[70]
Portugal (samora Correia)Aerial parts1,8-Cineole (29%); Borneol (29%)[70]
Portugal (Poceirão)Aerial parts1,8-Cineole (28%); Linalyl acetate (20%);
Linalool (17%)

Table 1.

Main components present in some EOs of flavoring plants.

Some studies report that L. luisieri EOs has a unique composition in the Plantae kingdom, containing irregular cyclopentene monoterpenes derived from necrodane, such as α-necrodol, α-necrodyl acetate; in addition to, 1,8-cineole, lavandulyl acetate, α-pinene, linalool, camphor and fenchone [83, 86, 87, 97]. However, the chemical compositions of the EOs of L. stoechas subsp. stoechas and L. stoechas subsp. luisieri are quite distinct [85, 87], so this classification has been controversial studies carried out with the EOs of L. luisieri from southern Portugal, revealed a chemical profile rich in oxygenated monoterpenes (>50%) and hydrocarbons sesquiterpenes (5–11%), of which 1,8-cineole (18.8%), trans-α-necrodyl acetate (16.2%), lavandol (11.7%), trans-α-necrodol (10.6%), and β-caryophyllene (6.0%) [23]. Recently, a study with EOs of L. luisieri and L. pedunculata from Portugal reported EOs of L. luisieri with 1,8-cineole (6–34%); fenchone (0–18%) and α-Necrodyl acetate (3–17%); and L. pedunculata with major compounds 1,8-Cineole (12–34%); fenchone (6–50%) and camphor (10–34%) (three chemotypes: 1,8-cineole, fenchone and camphor) [88]. In studies carried out by Garcia-Vallejo, et al. [98] and Lavoine-Hanneguelle and Casabianca [87] with L. luisieri from Spain, the EOs presented as main compounds 1,8-cineole, lavandulol, lavandulyl acetate, linalool and their acetates, also present in other species of the genus Lavandula, in addition to some necrodane compounds. According to Miguel et al. [21] the populations of Spain showed high levels of 1,8-cineole, fenchone, camphor and necrodane derivates and, in the south of Portugal, the majority compound it was always the 1,8-cineole [84, 86].

EO of L. pedunculata showed high content of oxygenated monoterpenes, although with quantitative differences regarding the percentages of the various compounds [21, 90]. Studies carried out with L. pedunculata from central Portugal [90] indicate that its EO consists mainly of oxygenated monoterpenes (69–89%) and hydrocarbons monoterpenes (4.25–22.5%), with fenchone as the main constituents (1.3–59.7%), 1.8-cineole (2.4–55.5%) and camphor (3.6–48.0%). The EOs of L. pedunculata from central Portugal have been categorized into three chemotypes: 1,8-cineole, 1,8-cineole/camphor and fenchone [35], while the EO of L. pedunculata from the Algarve (Portugal) expresses the camphor/camphene chemotype [25].

Analysis of the EO of L. viridis revealed a chemical composition with a predominance of terpenoids, namely oxygenated monoterpenes (>50%) and hydrocarbons monoterpenes (>20%) and sesquiterpenes (<5%), presenting as majority: 1,8-cineole, camphor, α-pinene and linalool, the leaves of which are used, dried, in medical applications in Madeira, Portugal [43, 44, 45, 46]. Some authors relate that the EO of the aerial part (leaf and flower) of this species contains mostly oxygenated monoterpenes (>50%), hydrocarbons monoterpenes (>20%) and sesquiterpenes (<5%), presenting as major compounds: 1,8-cineole (22–42%), camphor (2.9–31.5%), α-pinene (0.3–14.4%) and linalool (0.2–7.8%) [21, 43, 44, 45].

Depending on the variety and region, Calamintha EOs showed as major components carvacrol (45–65%), β-pinene, geraniol, α-caryophyllene and pulegone [48, 49, 50]. Previous studies with EOs oils from C. nepeta indicate the presence of a remarkable chemical polymorphism, suggesting the existence of two chemotypes: one characterized by the predominance of pulegone and menthone, menthol and/or its isomers, piperitenone, piperitone and their oxides [93, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105], and the other type characterized by the predominance of piperitenone oxide and/or piperitone oxide [93, 106]. Marongiu et al. [50], in a study comparing the chemical profile carried out with Portuguese and Italian C. nepeta, reported that the EO of Portuguese C. nepeta presented as major components isomenthone, 1,8-cineole and isopulegone, while the Italian EO presented pulegone as a major component. Studies carried out with C. nepeta from southern Portugal reported that this EO had 1,8-cineole, isopulegol and isopulegone as major components [26]. Studies carried out with C. nepeta EOs from Alentejo (Portugal) have shown a peculiar chemical profile predominantly composed of isomenthone (35.8–51.3%), 1,8-cineole (21.1–21.4%) and trans-isopulegone (7.8–6.0%) [27, 28, 107, 108, 109].

Rosmarinus EOs present α-pinene (up to 30%), β-pinene, camphene, limonene, myrcene, β-caryophyllene, cineole (15–30%), camphor (15–25%) as major compounds [4, 34]. The EO of R. officinalis presents a chemical polymorphism. In studies carried out by Ribeiro et al. [58], Wang et al. [29] and Boukhobza et al. [91] with the EO of R. officinalis from Portugal, China and Algeria, respectively, the EO presented as the majority compound 1,8-cineole. The EO of R. officinalis from Iran presented, as major components, α-pinene and linalool, with 14% each [30].

Thymus vulgaris, a flowering plant from genus Thymus and originating in southern Europe, is characterized by chemical component polymorphism according to the main volatile, with known six EOs chemotypes: geraniol, linalool, α-terpineol, tujanol-4, thymol and carvacrol [110]. T. mastichina is a related species to the Thymus genus but it presents a chemical polymorphism, with 1,8-cineole, limonene and β-terpinol as main constituents [4]. According to Salgueiro et al. [111], the EOs of some thyme species were characterized by a high content of 1.8-cineole and variable content of linalool, which varies with the geographical origin. Another study with EOs from T. mastichina reported 1,8-cineole (64%) as a major component, followed by α-terpineol (6%) and β-pinene (5%) [4, 112]. Moreover, Portuguese thyme from the T. mastichina section has also 1,8-cineole as the main constituent (often higher than 60%) [111]. Studies with a related species, T. capitellatus reveal the existence of polymorphisms in their EOs, reporting three chemotypes: the 1,8-cineole; the 1,8-cineole/borneol and the 1,8-cineole/linalyl acetate/linalool chemotypes [70].


3. Health benefits of EOs

Plants and their extracts have been used by mankind since the beginning of history and their secondary metabolites have traditionally played an important role in human health and well-being [71], increasingly important in therapeutics, due to their efficacy and, above all, due to the lower number of adverse effects when compared to synthetic drugs.

Table 2 reports some pharmacological activities (antioxidant analgesic, anti-inflammatory and cholinesterase inhibition) of EOs of some Lavandula spp., Calamintha nepeta, Rosmarinus officinallis and Thymus mastichina chemotypes high in 1,8-cineole. Depending on their chemical composition, either major and minor constituents, studies report antioxidant, antitumor, analgesic and anti-inflammatory, sedative or antispasmodic effects of these EOs [72, 113].

EOsBiological activitiesRef.
Lavandula luisieriAntioxidant and analgesic or anti-inflammatory potential[21, 22, 23, 24, 88]
Lavandula pedunculataAntioxidant activity and cholinesterases inhibition[21, 25, 88]
Lavandula viridisAntioxidant activity[21]
Calamintha nepetaAntioxidant and Antitumoral potential[26, 27, 28]
Rosmarinus oficinallisAntioxidant activity and acetylcholinesterase inhibition; Antiproliferative activities[29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35]
Thymus mastichinaAntioxidant potential and Acetylcholinesterase inhibition, Lipoxygenase inhibition and anti-tumoral activities[26, 27, 36]

Table 2.

Biological properties of EOs with high content in 1,8-cineole.

3.1 Antioxidant activity of EOs

The adverse effects of oxidative stress on human health have become a serious issue. This results from the imbalance between oxidant and antioxidant molecules, which can induce cellular damage by free radicals and promote the development of many current disease conditions, including inflammation, autoimmune diseases, cataracts, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, arteriosclerosis and aging [1, 114]. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are constantly generated and play important roles in a variety of normal biochemical functions as well as irregular or pathological processes. Furthermore, ROS can be produced by a family of mitochondrial membrane-bound enzymes, such as NAD(P)H oxidases, which appear to affect cell proliferation and apoptosis [115].

A broad definition of an antioxidant is “any substance which, present in low concentrations compared to that of the oxidizable substrate, effectively delays or inhibits the oxidation of that substrate”. EOs are important antioxidants able to prevent or minimize the development of degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, neurodegenerative and inflammatory diseases [1].

Many of the medicinal plants belonging to the Lamiaceae family have antioxidant potential. Studies carried out with medicinal plants suggest that their antioxidant activity is due to the redox reactions of phenolic compounds, which allow them to act as reducing agents, donating hydrogen atoms and capturing singlet oxygen [116].

Some studies carried out with species of the genus Lavandula suggests that EOs from the aerial parts of these plants have antioxidant activity in protecting the lipid substrate and capturing free radicals, depending on their chemical constituents [21, 22, 37, 117, 118].

EOs of C. nepeta from Portugal have in vitro antioxidant capacity either to capture free radicals and to reduce Fe3+ or inhibit lipid oxidation [26, 27, 28]. Also, the EO of R. officinallis with high content of 1,8-cineole reported that it could inhibit lipid peroxidation and capture free radicals [29, 31, 32, 34]. Studies carried out with T. mastichina EOs from Spain and Portugal showed that their EOs have shown low antioxidant activity by the DPPH radical method [26, 36, 119].

EOs are an important source of potentially useful antioxidants to prevent oxidative stress and promote human health [120]. According to the literature, the antioxidant activity of EOs is related to their high content of monoterpenes, namely limonene, 1,8-cineole, γ-terpinene, α-terpinene, linalool, 4-terpineol [60, 121, 122]. Additionally, the synergistic potential of minority constituents is often proposed to explain the differences between estimated and observed values for antioxidant capacities [123, 124]. Antioxidant properties of EOs also suggest their potential as anti-inflammatory agents, since the capture and elimination of free radicals is one of the mechanisms involved in the prevention of inflammation [125, 126]. Additionally, due to their high activity in protecting the lipid substrate, EOs have the potential to prevent neurodegenerative and cancerous diseases [35, 127].

3.2 Anti-inflammatory activity of EOs

The inflammatory response is one of the most important defense mechanisms of the body, responsible for removing and neutralizing invading microorganisms and/or repairing tissues, involving, in its processes, immune cells of the hematopoietic system, such as macrophages. Cyclooxygenases (COX) play an important role in mediating the body’s inflammatory response [128, 129, 130]. Cytokines released in the anti-inflammatory processes (IL-1, IL-2, IL-6, IL-8 and TNF or tumor necrosis factor) are also associated with other body responses, including immune and anti-inflammatory responses or anti-tumoral and apoptosis processes [131, 132, 133, 134].

EOs of several plants promote anti-inflammatory activity due to the presence of bioactive compounds such as oxygen monoterpenes that mediate the capture of free radicals generated by neutrophils and macrophages as well as for their ability to inhibit the cyclooxygenase pathway, having an important role in the regulation of inflammatory mediators [126, 135]. There is evidence that the association of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress with the aging process, indicating a subclinical chronic response. Additionally, the presence of reactive species in inflammatory processes are present in the etiology of several pathologies, including those resulting from metabolic disorders, demonstrating the central role of the reciprocal interaction between oxidative stress and inflammation [136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141].

The anti-inflammatory activity of EOs can be attributed not only to their antioxidant properties but also to interactions with signaling cascades involving cytokines and transcriptional regulatory factors and in the expression of pro-inflammatory genes [126, 142]. Some studies carried out in animal models with terpenes present in EOs, such as linalool, limonene, myrcene, 1,8-cineole, demonstrated that these compounds showed analgesic activity [143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152]. The analgesic and anti-inflammatory potential of OEs are preferentially attributed to the high content of terpene compounds [143, 145, 146, 153, 154, 155, 156] as well as to the synergetic effect of minor components that can influence the pharmacokinetics and bioavailability of compounds with pharmacological action [157].

The anti-inflammatory effects observed for the EOs of Lavandula species can be attributed to their monoterpene content, namely 1,8-cineole, fenchone, linalool [143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 152]. For example, a study with EO from the leaves of L. angustifolia, high in 1,8-cineole (65%), borneol (12%) and camphor (10%) reported EO anti-inflammatory activity of 48% at a dose of 200 mg/kg [38]. In another case, Cardia et al. [158] demonstrated that the EO of L. angustifolia has anti-inflammatory activity by the method of paw edema induced by carrageenan, being able to inhibit, at a dose of 100 mg/kg, the inflammation in 54%, 56% or 45% after 30, 60 or 120 min, respectively. Recently, Zuzarte et al. [88] evaluated the anti-inflammatory activity of EOs of L. luisieri (high content in 1,8-cineole and fenchone and low quantities of necrodane derivatives) and three different EOs chemotypes of L. pedunculata (1,8-cineole, fenchone and camphor chemotypes) from Portugal and reported that EOs of L. luisirei, rich in 1,8-cineole and fenchone, was the EO with the highest anti-inflammatory potential and also was more active than its major compounds when assessed alone or in combination, confirming the synergetic effect of minor components.

Regarding the species of the genus Thymus, the most studied species is T. vulgaris, being widely recognized for the potential of its EOs and their major components as anti-inflammatory agents [159, 160, 161]. On the other hand, the literature reports that the monoterpenes 1,8-cineole, anethole and fenchone, major components present in the EOs of C. nepeta and T. mastichina may be also responsible for the anti-inflammatory effect [77, 143, 144, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 162].


4. Conclusions

EOs are increasingly used as therapeutic agents, cosmetics and food additives, along with industrial synthesis products, with application in phytotherapy. However, several factors can affect the biological properties of OEs, such as genera and species, time and region of harvest, extraction method, as well as the polymorphisms of each species. Correlation study between the biological properties of EOs and their chemical composition allows to evaluate its phytopharmaceutical potential and, together with traditional knowledge and practices, scientifically validate it, to allow an adequate, effective and safe use.

The biological activities of EOs are often related with its high content of some monoterpenes, such as 1,8-cineole which is an oxygenated monoterpene frequently found as one of the major components in the EOs of some plants of genera Lavandula, Calamintha, Rosmarinus and Thymus, autochthonous to the Mediterranean region. Several biological properties of EO of these plants have been attributed, including antioxidant (capacity to capture of free radicals or ability to protect the lipid substrate) and anti-inflammatory properties. These EOs properties are often attributed to their major components, however, the synergistic potential of minor constituents is often proposed to explain the differences between estimated and observed values.



This work was supported by the UIDB/04449/2020 and UIDP/04449/2020 projects, funded by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT).


Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Written By

Sílvia Macedo Arantes, Ana Teresa Caldeira and Maria Rosário Martins

Submitted: 11 February 2022 Reviewed: 21 February 2022 Published: 02 June 2022