Essential therapeutic drugs for Alzheimer's disease (AD) have not been developed. Since the neuritic atrophy leading to synaptic losses is one of the critical causes of memory impairment in AD, the effects of several constituents in tonic herbal medicines on neuritic atrophy and memory deficits have been studied. The present study investigated the effects of icariin, a main constituent in Epimedii Herba, a well known tonic crude drug, in an in vitro AD model and transgenic mouse AD model (5xFAD). Amyloid β(1–42)-induced atrophies of axons and dendrites were restored by post-treatment with icariin in rat cortical neurons. Administration of icariin for 8 days (p.o.) improved spatial memory impairment in 5xFAD mice. These novel findings suggest that icariin may improve memory dysfunction in AD and have a potential to extend neurites even when amyloid β-induced neurite atrophy has already occurred. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.