Epilobium angustifolium has been traditionally used to treat of a number of diseases; however, not much is known regarding its effect on innate immune cells. In this study, we report that extracts of E. angustifolium activated functional responses in neutrophils and monocyte/macrophages. Activity-guided fractionation, followed by mass spectroscopy and NMR analysis, resulted in the identification of oenothein B as the primary component responsible for phagocyte activation. Oenothein B, a dimeric hydrolysable tannin, dose-dependently induced a number of phagocyte functions in vitro, including intracellular Ca(2+) flux, production of reactive oxygen species, chemotaxis, NF-kappaB activation, and proinflammatory cytokine production. Furthermore, oenothein B was active in vivo, inducing keratinocyte chemoattractant production and neutrophil recruitment to the peritoneum after intraperitoneal administration. Biological activity required the full oenothein B structure, as substructures of oenothein B (pyrocatechol, gallic acid, pyrogallol, 3,4-dihydroxybenzoic acid) were all inactive. The ability of oenothein B to modulate phagocyte functions in vitro and in vivo suggests that this compound is responsible for at least part of the therapeutic properties of E. angustifolium extracts.