The objective of this study was to evaluate the ability of the plant extracts Yucca shidigera, Quillaja saponaria and a combination (a blend of capsicum, carvacrol and cinnamaldehyde) to stimulate piglet and sow performance when used as supplements in the diets of lactating sows. These extracts were selected for their potential benefits to health, appetite and digestion. Eighty hybrid sows were housed in conventional indoor farrowing crates from day 107 of gestation until weaning. Sows were allocated according to parity, live weight, fatness and past reproductive performance, to one of four dietary treatments: control (C), combination (COM, 100 g/t food), yucca (Y, 200 g/t), quillaja (Q, 250 g/t). Between days 107 to 114 of gestation, sows received 2·5 kg food per day of their respective diet. During lactation food was offered ad libitum with sow food intake (FI) recorded daily. Faecal samples were obtained from sows daily in order to measure diet digestibility using titanium dioxide as an external marker. Piglet live weight and sow P2 backfat were recorded on days 1, 7, 14 and 21 and at weaning on day 23 (s.e.2·5). Piglet live weight and rectal temperature were measured at birth and 24 h of age. Piglet growth between birth and 24 h was significantly affected by sow treatment. Litters from COM sows held the greatest advantage (117 v. C 99, Q 77, Y 107 g per pig per day, P < 0·01, s.e. = 7·9). Piglet body temperature at birth was also higher in COM litters when compared with treatment C (38·58 v. 37·95oC, P < 0·05)). Q and Y piglets were intermediate between the two. Sow treatment had no effect on piglet performance between day 1 and 14 of lactation. However, between days 15 and 21, piglets from COM sows again significantly outperformed all other treatments (COM 290, C 246, Q 235, Y 255 g per pig per day, P < 0·001, s.e. = 9·3). Piglet weights on day 21 were also significantly greater for the COM sows (6878 g v. C 6584 g, Q 6330 g, Y 6498 g, P < 0·05 s.e. = 132). No benefit was seen from supplementation with either yucca or quillaja extracts on piglet growth. Sow FI and P2 backfat loss between parturition and weaning were unaffected by treatment. However, diet digestibility was enhanced by all supplements during week 1 of lactation in terms of dry matter, organic matter and crude protein. It is concluded that some plant extracts may enhance piglet and sow performance prior to weaning.