More than 200 Chinese medicinal herb extracts were screened for antiviral activities against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) using 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-5-(3-carboxymethoxyphenyl)-2-(4-sulfophenyl)-2H-tetrazolium inner salt (MTS) assay for virus-induced cytopathic effect (CPE). Four of these extracts showed moderate to potent antiviral activities against SARS-CoV with 50% effective concentration (EC50) ranging from 2.4 +/- 0.2 to 88.2 +/- 7.7 microg/ml. Out of the four, Lycoris radiata was most potent. To identify the active component, L. radiata extract was subjected to further fractionation, purification, and CPE/MTS assays. This process led to the identification of a single substance lycorine as an anti-SARS-CoV component with an EC50 value of 15.7 +/- 1.2 nM. This compound has a CC50 value of 14980.0 +/- 912.0 nM in cytotoxicity assay and a selective index (SI) greater than 900. The results suggested that four herbal extracts and the compound lycorine are candidates for the development of new anti-SARS-CoV drugs in the treatment of SARS.