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Anti-plasmodial and insecticidal activities of the essential oils of aromatic plants growing in the Mediterranean area

Mario Dell’Agli1*, Cinzia Sanna2, Patrizia Rubiolo3, Nicoletta Basilico4, Elisa Colombo1, Maria M Scaltrito4, Mamadou Ousmane Ndiath5, Luca Maccarone3, Donatella Taramelli1, Carlo Bicchi3, Mauro Ballero2 and Enrica Bosisio1

Author Affiliations

1 Dipartimento di Scienze Farmacologiche e Biomolecolari, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy

2 Co.S.Me.Se, Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita e dell’Ambiente, Macrosezione Botanica e Orto botanico, Università degli Studi di Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy

3 Dipartimento di Scienza e Tecnologia del Farmaco, Università degli Studi di Torino, Torino, Italy

4 Dipartimento di Scienze biomediche, chirurgiche e odontoiatriche, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy

5 Laboratoire de Biologie Moléculaire, UMR 198, Paludologie IRD HANN, Dakar, Sénégal

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Malaria Journal 2012, 11:219  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-219

Published: 2 July 2012



Sardinia is a Mediterranean area endemic for malaria up to the last century. During a screening study to evaluate the anti-plasmodial activity of some aromatic plants traditionally used in Sardinia, Myrtus communis (myrtle, Myrtaceae), Satureja thymbra (savory, Lamiaceae), and Thymus herba-barona (caraway thyme, Lamiaceae) were collected in three vegetative periods: before, during and after flowering.


The essential oils were obtained by steam distillation, fractionated by silica gel column chromatography and analysed by GC-FID-MS. Total oil and three main fractions were tested on D10 and W2 strains of Plasmodium falciparum in vitro. Larvicidal and adulticidal activities were tested on Anopheles gambiae susceptible strains.


The essential oil of savory, rich in thymol, was the most effective against P. falciparum with an inhibitory activity independent from the time of collection (IC50 17–26 μg/ml on D10 and 9–11 μg/ml on W2). Upon fractionation, fraction 1 was enriched in mono-sesquiterpenoid hydrocarbons; fraction 2 in thymol (73-83%); and fraction 3 contained thymol, carvacrol and terpinen-4-ol, with a different composition depending on the time of collection. Thymol-enriched fractions were the most active on both strains (IC50 20–22 μg/ml on D10 and 8–10 μg/ml on W2) and thymol was confirmed as mainly responsible for this activity (IC50 19.7± 3.0 and 10.6 ± 2.0 μg/ml on D10 and W2, respectively). The essential oil of S. thymbra L. showed also larvicidal and adulticidal activities. The larvicidal activity, expressed as LC50, was 0.15 ± 0.002; 0.21 ± 0.13; and 0.15 ± 0.09 μg/ml (mean ± sd) depending on the time of collection: before, during and after flowering, respectively.


This study provides evidence for the use of essential oils for treating malaria and fighting the vector at both the larval and adult stages. These findings open the possibility for further investigation aimed at the isolation of natural products with anti-parasitic properties.

Essential oil; Insecticidal activity; Plasmodium falciparum; Satureja thymbra; Myrtus communis; Thymus herba-barona; Thymol; Anopheles gambiae