The aim of our present study was to examine the regulation of xenobiotic- and antioxidant enzymes by phytogenic feed additives in the intestine and the liver of broilers. A total of 240 male Ross-308 broiler chickens (1 d old) were fed a commercial starter diet for 2 weeks. On day 15, the birds were assigned to six treatment groups of forty birds each. The control (Con) group was fed a diet without any additive for 3 weeks. The diet of group sulforaphane (SFN) contained broccoli extract providing 0·075 g/kg SFN, whereas the diets of the other four groups contained 0·15 g/kg essential oils from turmeric (Cuo), oregano (Oo), thyme and rosemary (Ro). Weight gain and feed conversion were slightly impaired by Cuo and Oo. In the jejunum SFN, Cuo and Ro increased the expression of xenobiotic enzymes (epoxide hydrolases 1 and 2 and aflatoxin B1 aldehyde reductase) and of the antioxidant enzyme haeme oxygenase regulated by an ‘antioxidant response element’ (ARE) compared to group Con. In contrast to our expectations in the liver, the expression of these enzymes was decreased by all the additives. Nevertheless, all the additives increased the Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity of the jejunum and the liver and reduced Fe-induced lipid peroxidation in the liver. We conclude that the up-regulation of ARE genes in the small intestine reduces oxidative stress in the organism and represents a novel mechanism by which phytogenic feed additives improve the health of farm animals.