The presence of phenolic compounds in fruit- and vegetable-rich diets has attracted researchers' attention due to their health-promoting effects. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of purple pitanga (Eugenia uniflora L.) extract on cell proliferation, viability, mitochondrial membrane potential, cell death and cell cycle in murine activated hepatic stellate cells (GRX). Cell viability by 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazolyl)-2,5-diphenyl-2H-tetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay was significantly decreased on cells treated with 50 and 100 µg ml−1 of purple pitanga extract for 48 and 72 h, and the percentage of dead cell stained with 7-amino-actinomycin D was significantly higher in treated cells. The reduction of cell proliferation was dose dependent, and we also observed alterations on cell cycle progression. At all times studied, GRX cells treated with 50 and 100 µg ml−1 of purple pitanga showed a significant reduction in cellular mitochondrial content as well as a decrease in mitochondrial membrane potential. Furthermore, our results indicated that purple pitanga extract induces early and late apoptosis/necrosis and necrotic death in GRX cells. This is the first report describing the antiproliferative, cytotoxic and apoptotic activity for E. uniflora fruits in hepatic stellate cells. The present study provides a foundation for the prevention and treatment of liver fibrosis, and more studies will be carried to elucidate this effect. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.