Safrole, a component of piper betle inflorescence, is a documented rodent hepatocarcinogen and inhibits bactericidal activity and the release of superoxide anion (O(2-)) by polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs). In the present study, we investigated the effects of safrole on immune responses, including natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity, phagocytic activity and population distribution of leukocytes from normal BALB/c mice. The cells population (cell surface markers) and phagocytosis by macrophages and monocytes from the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were determined, and NK cell cytotoxicity from splenocytes of mice after oral treatment with safrole was performed using flow cytometric assay. Results indicated that safrole did not affect the weights of body, spleen and liver when compared with the normal mice group. Safrole also promoted the levels of CD11b (monocytes) and Mac-3 (macrophages) that might be the reason for promoting the activity of phagocytosis. However, safrole reduced the cell population such as CD3 (T cells) and CD19 (B cells) of safrole-treated normal mice by oral administration. Furthermore, safrole elevated the uptake of Escherichia coli-labelled fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC) by macrophages from blood and significantly stimulated the NK cell cytotoxicity in normal mice in vivo. In conclusions, alterations of the cell population (the increase in monocytes and macrophages, respectively) in safrole-treated normal BALB/c mice might indirectly influence the immune responses in vivo.