The use of antibiotics as performance enhancers in animal feeding is declining, so Lippia gracilis Schauer essential oil (LGSEO) could be used as a potential substitute for the conventionally used growth promoters. The LGSEO contains components such as carvacrol and thymol, which kill and/or control pathogenic bacteria, increase population of beneficial organisms, act against oxidative processes and onto nutrient digestibility and absorption. The aim of this study was to investigate the action and the effects of LGSEO as a growth promoter in the diet of Japanese quail by examining their productive performance, intestinal microbiology, blood biochemical parameters, hepatic thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) content and intestinal gene expression. A total of 252 two-day-old quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) were assigned to 3 treatments in 7 replicates, using 12 birds per experimental unit. The treatments consisted of a basal diet, basal diet + LGSEO at 400 mg/kg of diet and basal diet + chemical antimicrobial (bacitracin methylene disalicylate) at 500 mg/kg of diet. The experimental period was 34 days. The highest feed intake (P < 0.01) was found in the group receiving the conventional antimicrobial, whereas the best feed conversion (P < 0.01) was shown by the animals receiving LGSEO. Escherichia coli growth was restricted in the quail receiving the growth promoters. Salmonella spp. growth was controlled by the treatment containing the conventional antimicrobial. There was no difference between the treatments (P > 0.05) for the concentration of aspartate aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase enzymes in the blood or hepatic TBARS content. Birds receiving negative-control treatment exhibited a higher expression of sodium-glucose cotransporter (SGLT1), while those receiving the treatment with essential oil showed lower catalase (CAT) and glutathione peroxidase (GPX7) expressions compared to the conventional antimicrobial and control groups, respectively. Lippia gracilis Schauer essential oil is a powerful performance enhancer for Japanese quail by virtue of its abilities to improve their intestinal environment, balance the microbial population and reduce energy expenditure for oxidative processes.