Abstract Natural killer (NK) cells are a subset of lymphocytes crucial for innate and adaptive immune responses. Here we show a stimulatory effect of cryptotanshinone (CTS) and tanshinone IIA (TS), isolated from Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge, on the differentiation of NK cells. In the presence of IL-15, tanshinones increased NK cell maturation, NK cell differentiation and the expression of several transcription factors, including Id2, GATA3, T-bet, and Ets-1. Additionally, tanshinones increased p38 MAPK phosphorylation during NK cell differentiation. Furthermore, the p38 inhibitor SB203580 blocked the developmental effects of the tanshinones and suppressed Id2, T-bet, and Ets-1 expression during NK cell differentiation. These results suggest that tanshinones significantly increased IL-15-induced NK cell differentiation via enhancing the p38 phosphorylation and the expression of transcription factors.