Ocimum sanctum leaves have previously been reported to reduce blood glucose when administered to rats and humans with diabetes. In the present study, the effects of ethanol extract and five partition fractions of O. sanctum leaves were studied on insulin secretion together with an evaluation of their mechanisms of action. The ethanol extract and each of the aqueous, butanol and ethylacetate fractions stimulated insulin secretion from perfused rat pancreas, isolated rat islets and a clonal rat beta-cell line in a concentration-dependent manner. The stimulatory effects of ethanol extract and each of these partition fractions were potentiated by glucose, isobutylmethylxanthine, tolbutamide and a depolarizing concentration of KCl. Inhibition of the secretory effect was observed with diazoxide, verapamil and Ca2+ removal. In contrast, the stimulatory effects of the chloroform and hexane partition fractions were associated with decreased cell viability and were unaltered by diazoxide and verapamil. The ethanol extract and the five fractions increased intracellular Ca2+ in clonal BRIN-BD11 cells, being partly attenuated by the addition of verapamil. These findings indicated that constituents of O. sanctum leaf extracts have stimulatory effects on physiological pathways of insulin secretion which may underlie its reported antidiabetic action.