Tian ma (Gastrodia elata, GE) is an ancient Chinese herbal medicine that has been suggested to be effective as an anticonvulsant and analgesic, and to have sedative effects against vertigo, general paralysis, epilepsy and tetanus. The primary active ingredient isolated from GE is termed gastrodin, which is the glucoside of 4-hydroxybenzyl alcohol (4-HBA). Gastrodin can abolish hypoxia-, glutamate- and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-induced toxicity in primary culture of rat cortical neurons, and reduces seizure severity in seizure-sensitive gerbils. We evaluated the effect of gastrodin on NMDA excitotoxicity in hippocampal slice cultures (HSCs) with propidium iodide (PI) fluorescence measurement. We also evaluated the effects of gastrodin for treating active in vivo temporal lobe seizures induced by lithium/pilocarpine. Seizure severity, time span to seizure onset, mortality rate and hippocampal histology for survivors were compared. The effect of gastrodin was evaluated for treating in vitro seizures induced by Mg²⁺-free medium in hippocampal slices. Frequencies and amplitudes of epileptiform discharges were compared. The effect of gastrodin on synaptic transmission was evaluated on hippocampal CA1 Schaffer collaterals. Application of 25 μM gastrodin significantly suppressed NMDA excitotoxicity in CA3 but not in CA1 hippocampus and dentate gyrus. Intraventricular gastrodin accelerated seizure onset for 12 min after intraperitoneal pilocarpine injection (P = 0.051). Three of five rats (60%) in the gastrodin group, and three of four (75%) in the dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) group died within 3 days after status epilepticus (SE). Gastrodin also failed to inhibit epileptiform discharges in hippocampal slices induced by Mg²⁺-free medium, believed to be NMDA receptor-mediated spontaneous activity. The frequencies of the spontaneous epileptiform discharges were similar under treatments with 25 μM gastrodin, 200 μM gastrodin and DMSO. For the evaluation of gastrodin on synaptic transmission, application of DMSO, 25 μM or 200 μM gastrodin had no significant effect on excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) slopes. Gastrodin at 200 μM decreased paired-pulse facilitation (PPF) from 1.23 ± 0.04 to 1.12 ± 0.04 (P = 0.002). In conclusion, gastrodin failed to suppress in vivo and in vitro seizures in our study. Gastrodin showed no effect on hippocampal Schaffer collateral EPSP. These findings suggest that gastrodin does not interact with ionotropic glutamate receptors to inhibit NMDA receptor-facilitated seizures. However, gastrodin showed protective effects against NMDA toxicity on cultured hippocampal slices. Nevertheless, gastrodin is still a potential neuroprotective agent against NMDA excitotoxicity, with potential benefits for stroke and patients with epilepsy.