A naphthoquinone, 7-methyljuglone and some of its 5-hydroxy, 5-acetoxy-, 5-alkoxy- and 1,2,4,5-tetra-O-acetate derivatives were tested for their activity in four human cancer cell lines: breast adenocarcinoma, cervical epithelial carcinoma, oesophageal carcinoma and prostate epithelial carcinoma. Compound 2,5-dihydroxy-7-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone was found to be the most effective one (exhibited a fifty percent inhibitory concentration (IC50) in the range of 5.3 to 14.7 μM), while the parent compound 7-methyljuglone was less active than several of these derivatives. The IC50 values of 5-hydroxy-6-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone were found to be between 19.1 and 15.4 μM on the four cell lines. However this compound showed toxicity on peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Six derivatives were selected for mechanistic studies. Considering the findings from cell cycle analysis, caspase 3/7 activation and annexinV-FITC dual labelling, 5-hydroxy-6-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone was found to have antitumour effect by inducing apoptosis. Two derivatives namely, ‘8-fluoro-5-hydroxy-7- methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone’ and ‘2,5-dihydroxy-7-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone’ were found to be not toxic on peripheral blood mononuclear cells suggesting their action is specific for tumour cells. Compound 2,5-dihydroxy-7-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone was found to induce apoptosis through caspase 3/7 activation. In view of the enhanced potencies associated with these derivatives, these analogues may hold considerable therapeutic potential for the treatment of leukaemia cancers. The ethanol extracts of seven plant species (ethnobotanically selected) were also tested for their cytotoxicity, assayed by the XTT assay, against four human cancer cell lines at concentrations ranging from 0.78 to 100 μg/ml. Of all the ethanol extracts, Foeniculum vulgare was found to have the best activity on HeLa cells, which exhibited an IC50 value of 19.97± 0.048 μg/ml. Therefore, it was selected for isolation of the bioactive principles. The extract of Foeniculum vulgare was fractionated using column chromatography with hexane and ethyl acetate at different ratios as eluent. Two known compounds, ‘4-methoxycinnamyl alcohol’ and ‘syringin’ were isolated. The IC50 values of ‘4-methoxycinnamyl alcohol’ and ‘syringin’ were found to be 7.82 ± 0.28 μg/ml and 10.26 ± 0.18 μg/ml respectively on HeLa cells. Both compounds were tested for their cytotoxicity against U937 cells and also on peripheral blood mononuclear cells. At the concentrations of 10 and 100 μg/ml ‘4- methoxycinnamyl alcohol’ showed similar cell proliferation as that of the positive control ‘cisplatin’. ‘Syringin’ however, had much lower cytotoxicity on the U937 cells than ‘4- methoxycinnamyl alcohol’. IC50 was found to be 91.14 ± 0.63 μg/ml. Both ‘syringin’ and ‘4- methoxycinnamyl alcohol’ were not cytotoxic at concentrations of 1 and 10 μg/ml on the PBMCs as compared to cisplatin. ‘4-Methoxycinnamyl alcohol’ was selected based on its activity on the cancer cells, for further investigation with regard to its mechanism of action. On gel electrophoresis it did not show a typical ladder pattern, instead a characteristic smear resulted which indicated necrosis. Two best derivatives of 7-methyljuglone (‘8-fluoro-5-hydroxy-7-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone’ and ‘2,5-dihydroxy-7-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone’) and the ethanol extract of F. vulgare warrant further investigation to be considered for their potential as anticancer agents.