Traditional medicine is an important part of human health care in many developing countries and also in developed countries, increasing their commercial value. Although the use of medicinal plants in therapy has been known for centuries in all parts of the world, the demand for herbal medicines has grown dramatically in recent years. The world market for such medicines has reached US $ 60 billion, with annual growth rates of between 5% and 15%. Researchers or companies may also claim intellectual property rights over biological resources and/or traditional knowledge, after slightly modifying them. The fast growth of patent applications related to herbal medicine shows this trend clearly. This review presents the patent applications in the field of natural products, traditional herbal medicine and herbal medicinal products. Medicinal plants and related plant products are important targets of patent claims since they have become of great interest to the international drug and cosmetic industry. Copyright (c) 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.