Vanillyl alcohol (VA) is a component of Gastrodia elata Bl. (GE), which is a traditional Chinese herb widely used to treat convulsive disorders or dizziness. This study examined the role of VA in the anticonvulsive properties of GE in a Sprague-Dawley rat model of epilepsy. The anticonvulsive and free radical scavenging activities of VA were examined after intracortical injection of ferric chloride (100 mM, 8 microl) to induce epileptic seizures. These seizures were verified by behavioral observations and electroencephalographic (EEG) and electromyographic (EMG) recordings. Ferric chloride injection resulted in increased lipid peroxide levels in the ipsilateral and contralateral cerebral cortex, and increased luminol-chemiluminescence (CL) and lucigenin-CL counts in the peripheral blood. Intraperitoneal injection (i.p.) of VA (200 mg/kg or 100 mg/kg) or phenytoin 10 mg/kg prior to ferric chloride administration significantly inhibited wet dog shakes (WDS) and lipid peroxide levels in the bilateral cerebral cortex. VA 200 mg/kg also significantly reduced luminol-CL and lucigenin-CL counts in the peripheral blood, but no significant effect was observed following administration of VA 100 mg/kg or phenytoin. These data indicate that VA has both anticonvulsive and suppressive effects on seizures and lipid peroxidation induced by ferric chloride in rats. Data from the present study also demonstrate that VA has free radical scavenging activities, which may be responsible for its anticonvulsive propertics. This finding is consistent with the results from previous studies that generation of superoxide radical evoked by injection of iron salt into rat brain plays a critical role in ferric chloride-induced seizures. In addition, the results of the present study suggest that the anticonvulsive effect of GE may be attributable, at least in part, to its VA component.