The volatile extract from dried pericarp of Zanthoxylum schinifolium that was obtained by simultaneous distillation with dichloromethane and water was composed of 29.9% geranyl acetate, 15.8% citronella, 15.4% sabinene and the minor volatile components included beta-myrcene, linalool, (-)-isopulegol, citronellyl acetate, 1,4-dimethyl pyrazole, alpha-terpinene, 3-methyl-6-(1-methylethyl)-2-cyclo-hexene-1-o1 and trans-geraniol. The volatile extract decreased the cell viability and induced apoptotic death in HepG2 human hepatoma cells in a concentration- and time-related manner. In addition, the volatile extract increased the production of reactive oxygen species in a dose-dependent manner. Pretreatment of the cells with Trolox, a well-known antioxidant, significantly suppressed the generation of reactive oxygen species and cell death induced by the extract. However, caspase-3 activity was not changed in the extract-treated cells, suggesting that the extract-induced apoptosis of HepG2 cells is caspase-3 independent. Furthermore, in nude mice inoculated with Huh-7 human hepatoma cells, the extract significantly inhibited tumor development. These results suggest that the volatile extract from Zanthoxylum schinifolium pericarpium is a good candidate for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) therapy and that reactive oxygen species are the key signaling molecules in the volatile extract-induced cell death in HepG2 cells.