Lectins hold great promise not only as reagents for diagnostics and drug discovery but also as a novel class of biopharmaceutical products. In fact, new research directions in the last years have led to major developments in the uses of plant lectins as therapeutic agents against numerous diseases in an ageing society. It is even expected that lectins may occupy an important place in the biopharmaceutical industry next to monoclonal antibodies. All these new trends are placing a tremendous emphasis on the development of new approaches for faster lectins development, selection, and optimization, including alternatives methods of purification. This article reviews the isolation and purification methods used for lectins purification. Origins and applications of lectins are described, highlighting the special features of this class of proteins, such as the carbohydrated-binding domains and their importance in the development of affinity methodologies to increase and facilitate lectins purification. Published strategies for the purification of lectins from different sources are analyzed in relation to the purification methods used, their sequence, and the number of times they are used in a purification procedure. The purity of lectins is analyzed in relation to the average overall yield and purification factors obtained for each purification scheme for these proteins and the purification steps necessary. New directions are described for improving lectins separation and purification. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.