Essential oils obtained by hydrodistillation (HD) and microwave-assisted HD (MWHD) of Origanum onites aerial parts were analyzed by GC and GC/MS. Thirty-one constituents representing 98.6% of the water-distilled oil and 52 constituents representing 99.6% of the microwave-distilled oil were identified. Carvacrol (76.8% HD and 79.2% MWHD) and thymol (4.7% HD and 4.4% MWHD) were characterized as major constituents in both essential oils. Separation of carvacrol and thymol was achieved by overpressured layer chromatography. HPTLC and TLC separations were also compared. Essential oils were evaluated for antifungal activity against the strawberry anthracnose-causing fungal plant pathogens Colletotrichum acutatum, C. fragariae, and C. gloeosporioides using a direct overlay bioautography assay. Furthermore, main oil components carvacrol and thymol were then evaluated for antifungal activity; only carvacrol demonstrated nonselective antifungal activity against the three Calletotrichum species. Thymol and carvacrol were subsequently evaluated in a 96-well microdilution broth assay against Phomopsis obscurans, Fusarium oxysporum, three Colletotrichum species, and Botrytis cinerea. No activity was observed against any of the three Colletotrichum species at or below 30 mu M. However, thymol demonstrated antifungal activity and produced 31.7% growth inhibition of P. obscurans at 120 h and 0.3 mu M, whereas carvacrol appeared inactive. Thymol and carvacrol at 30 mu M showed 51.5 and 36.9% growth inhibition of B. cinerea at 72 h. The mechanism of antibacterial activity was studied in a bioautography-based BioArena system. Thymol and carvacrol showed similar inhibition/killing effect against Bacillus subtilis soil bacteria; the action could be enhanced by the formaldehyde generator and transporter copper(II) ions and could be decreased in the presence of L-arginine, a formaldehyde capturer. Results indicated that Origanum essential oils and its major components thymol and carvacrol appear to generate antimicrobial activity through a mechanism of action where formaldehyde and its reaction products are produced.