The essential oils of Ocimum basilicum L., Origanum vulgare L., and Thymus vulgaris L. were analyzed by means of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and assayed for their antioxidant and antimicrobial activities. The antioxidant activity was evaluated as a free radical scavenging capacity (RSC), together with effects on lipid peroxidation (LP). RSC was assessed measuring the scavenging activity of the essential oils on 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazil (DPPH(*)) and OH(*) radicals. Effects on LP were evaluated following the activities of essential oils in Fe(2+)/ascorbate and Fe(2+)/H(2)O(2) systems of induction. Essential oils exhibited very strong RSCs, reducing the DPPH radical formation (IC(50)) in the range from 0.17 (oregano) to 0.39 microg/mL (basil). The essential oil of T. vulgaris exhibited the highest OH radical scavenging activity, although none of the examined essential oils reached 50% of neutralization (IC(50)). All of the tested essential oils strongly inhibited LP, induced either by Fe(2+)/ascorbate or by Fe(2+)/H(2)O(2). The antimicrobial activity was tested against 13 bacterial strains and six fungi. The most effective antibacterial activity was expressed by the essential oil of oregano, even on multiresistant strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli. A significant rate of antifungal activity of all of the examined essential oils was also exhibited.