Thyme (Thymus vulgaris L., Lamiaceae) is a subshrub from the Lamiaceae family with plants that are rich in essential oils and antioxidative phenolic substances. Twelve accessions originating from southern France and the variety "Deutscher Winter" were grown in an experimental field in eastern Austria. Leaf samples from these plants as well as from a commercial thyme rich in thymol were analyzed for their essential oil and the antioxidative potential in various extracts. The assays for antioxidative activity were the total phenolics according to the Folin-Ciocalteu method, DPPH decoloration, and Fe(3+) reduction (FRAP). Both extraction techniques used, in the water bath at 40 degrees C and in the ultrasonic bath at room temperature, proved to be efficient. The best results were obtained with 60% ethanol as extractant. In the comparison of the different accessions the less active and the most active of these extracts differed by factors of 2.1 and 2.6 in the total phenolics and FRAP assay, respectively, and by factors 1.5-2.0 in the DPPH assay. Rosmarinic acid accounted for 22-55% of the antioxidant activity in the ethanolic extracts. Essential oils with high proportions of the phenolic components thymol and/or carvacrol showed the highest antioxidant activity. Ethanolic extracts from the residues after distillation were considerably lower in antioxidant activity than the respective extracts from the dried leaves. Extracts with CH2Cl2 in the ultrasonic bath contained volatiles in proportions close to the essential oil but displayed very low antioxidant activity.