Essential oils are increasingly of interest for use as novel drugs acting as antimicrobial and antiviral agents. In the present study, we report the in vitro antiviral activities of 29 essential oils, extracted from Chinese indigenous aromatic plants, against the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV). Of these essential oils, those oils from ginger, lemon, tea tree, tangerine peel, artemisia, and lemongrass effected a more than 50% inhibition of TMV at 100 μg/ml. In addition, the mode of antiviral action of the active essential oils was also determined. Essential oils isolated from artemisia and lemongrass possessed potent inactivation and curative effects in vivo and had a directly passivating effect on TMV infection in a dose-dependent manner. However, all other active essential oils exhibited a moderate protective effect in vivo. The chemical constitutions of the essential oils from ginger, lemon, tea tree, tangerine peel, artemisia, and lemongrass were identified by gas chromatography and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The major components of these essential oils were α-zingiberene (35.21%), limonene (76.25%), terpinen-4-ol (41.20%), limonene (80.95%), 1,8-cineole (27.45%), and terpinolene (10.67%). The curative effects of 10 individual compounds from the active essential oils on TMV infection were also examined in vivo. The compounds from citronellal, limonene, 1,8-cineole, and α-zingiberene effected a more than 40% inhibition rate for TMV infection, and the other compounds demonstrated moderate activities at 320 μg/ml in vivo. There results indicate that the essential oils isolated from artemisia and lemongrass, and the individual compound citronellal, have the potential to be used as an effective alternative for the treatment of tobacco plants infected with TMV under greenhouse conditions.