HT042, a new herbal prescription consisting of Astragalus membranaceus, Phlomis umbrosa and Eleutherococcus senticosus, is used in traditional Korean medicine to stimulate growth in children. This study was conducted to investigate the effects of HT042 on skeletal growth, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3) levels, and oestrogenic activity in female rats. Female Sprague–Dawley rats were divided into control, recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH; 20 µg/kg/day), and HT042 (100 mg/kg/day) groups and treated for 3 weeks. Axial skeletal growth, femur length, and growth plate length were measured every 3 weeks. The serum IGF-1 and IGFBP-3 levels were analysed. Moreover, the oestrogenic activity of the herbal extracts in the immature and ovariectomized rats was tested. The nose–anus, nose–tail, femur and growth-plate lengths were increased significantly in the HT042 group. Both IGF-1 and IGFBP-3 were highly expressed in the hypertrophic zone of the growth plate. The serum IGF-1 levels were increased. Moreover, HT042 had no uterotrophic effects in the rats. Consequently, HT042 promoted longitudinal bone growth by stimulating cell proliferation in the epiphyseal plate and inducing the expression of IGF-1 without an oestrogenic response. HT042 may be helpful in stimulating growth in children with short stature. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.