The present study was conducted to determine the effects of a polysaccharide of Atractylodes macrophala Koidz (PAM) as a dietary additive on growth performance, immunoglobulin concentration and IL-1β expression in weaned piglets. One hundred and twenty Landrace×Yorkshire piglets weaned at 28 days old (body weight 7·5±0·07 kg) were assigned to five treatment groups (three pens/group, eight piglets/pen) fed maize/soybean-based diets supplemented with 0, 3, 6 or 9 g of PAM/kg diet or antibiotics (0·4 g flavomycin/kg+0·13 g olaquindox/kg). The experimental period was 28 days. With increasing PAM supplementation levels, average daily gain was greater (quadratic, P<0·05) and the ratio of amount fed to live weight (LW) gain (feed/gain) improved (quadratic, P<0·05) during days 14–28 and overall, and diarrhoea incidence decreased (linear, P<0·05) during days 14–28. Supplementation of PAM also increased (quadratic, P<0·05) serum concentrations of interleukin (IL)-2 and IL-6 on day 14, and increased (quadratic, P<0·05) IL-1β expression in jejunal mucosa and lymph nodes. Concentrations of PAM between 6 and 9 g/kg presented the strongest bioactivity compared to the control group or antibiotic-fed group. These findings indicate that PAM is effective in improving growth performance and cytokine response, which suggests that PAM can be used as a diet additive for weanling piglets.