Plants in the genus Tripterygium, such as Tripterygium wilfordii Hook.f., have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. In recent years there has been considerable interest in the use of Tripterygium extracts and of the main bioactive constituent, the diterpene triepoxide triptolide (1), to treat a variety of autoimmune and inflammation-related conditions. The main mode of action of the Tripterygium extracts and triptolide (1) is the inhibition of expression of proinflammatory genes such as those for interleukin-2 (IL-2), inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). The efficacy and safety of certain types of Tripterygium extracts were confirmed in human clinical trials in the US and abroad. Over 300 compounds have been identified in the genus Tripterygium, and many of these have been evaluated for biological activity. The overall activity of the extract is based on the interaction between its components. Therefore, the safety and efficacy of the extract cannot be fully mimicked by any individual constituent. This review discusses the biochemical composition and biological and pharmacological activities of Tripterygium extracts, and their main bioactive components.