Asparagus racemosus roots have been shown to enhance insulin secretion in perfused pancreas and isolated islets. The present study investigated the effects of ethanol extracts of A. racemosus roots on glucose homeostasis in diabetic rats, together with the effects on insulin action in 3T3 adipocytes. When administered orally together with glucose, A. racemosus extract improved glucose tolerance in normal as well as in two types of diabetic rats. To investigate the possible effects on carbohydrate absorption, the sucrose content of the gastrointestinal tract was examined in 12 h fasted rats after an oral sucrose load (2.5 g/kg body weight). The extract significantly suppressed postprandial hyperglycaemia after sucrose ingestion and reversibly increased unabsorbed sucrose content throughout the gut. The extract also significantly inhibited the absorption of glucose during in situ gut perfusion with glucose. Furthermore, the extract enhanced glucose transport and insulin action in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Daily administration of A. racemosus to type 2 diabetic rats for 28 d decreased serum glucose, increased pancreatic insulin, plasma insulin, liver glycogen and total oxidant status. These findings indicate that antihyperglycaemic activity of A. racemosus is partly mediated by inhibition of carbohydrate digestion and absorption, together with enhancement of insulin secretion and action in the peripheral tissue. Asparagus racemosus may be useful as a source of novel antidiabetic compounds or a dietary adjunct for the management of diabetes.