Plantago ovata has been reported to reduce postprandial glucose concentrations in diabetic patients. In the present study, the efficacy and possible modes of action of hot-water extracts of husk of P. ovata were evaluated. The administration of P. ovata (0 center dot 5 g/kg body weight) significantly improved glucose tolerance in normal, type 1 and type 2 diabetic rat models. When the extract was administered orally with sucrose solution, it suppressed postprandial blood glucose and retarded small intestinal absorption without inducing the influx of sucrose into the large intestine. The extract significantly reduced glucose absorption in the gut during in situ perfusion of small intestine in non-diabetic rats. In 28 d chronic feeding studies in type 2 diabetic rat models, the extract reduced serum atherogenic lipids and NEFA but had no effect on plasma insulin and total antioxidant status. No effect of the extract was evident on intestinal disaccharidase activity. Furthermore, the extract did not stimulate insulin secretion in perfused rat pancreas, isolated rat islets or clonal beta cells. Neither did the extract affect glucose transport in 3T3 adipocytes. In conclusion, aqueous extracts of P. ovata reduce hyperglycaemia in diabetes via inhibition of intestinal glucose absorption and enhancement of motility. These attributes indicate that P. ovata may be a useful source of active components to provide new opportunities for diabetes therapy.