The rapidly increasing diabetes mellitus is becoming a serious threat to mankind health in all parts of the world. The control and treatment of diabetes and its complications mainly depend on the chemical or biochemical agents, but the fact is that it has never been reported that someone had recovered totally from diabetes. With the distinctive traditional medical opinions and natural medicines mainly originated in herbs, the traditional Chinese medicine performed a good clinical practice and is showing a bright future in the therapy of diabetes mellitus and its complications. Based on a large number of chemical and pharmacological research work, numerous bioactive compounds have been found in Chinese medicinal plants for diabetes. The present paper reviews 86 natural medicines with regards to their origin, anti-diabetic active principles and/or pharmacological test results, which are commonly used in the traditional Chinese medical system and have demonstrated experimental or/and clinical anti-diabetic effectiveness. Among these natural medicines, 82 originate from plants and 4 from animals or insects, which covers 45 families. It is strongly significant to pay close attention to traditional Chinese medical therapeutics and natural medicines for treatment of diabetes mellitus and its complications. Copyright 2004 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.