The polyol enzyme aldose reductase (AR) and advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) play an important role in diabetic complications such as cataracts. The purpose of this study was to investigate four standardized plant extracts used for the treatment of diabetes and related diseases, and their principal components for AR inhibitory activity and to find out their influence in diabetic complications. Thus, Boswellia serrata Triana & Planch. (Burseraceae), Lagerstroemia speciosa (L.) Pers. (Lythraceae), Ocimum gratissimum (L.) (Lamiaceae) and Syzygium cumin (L.) Skeels. (Myrthaceae) and their respective major constituents, boswellic acid, corosolic acid, ursolic acid and ellagic acid, were studied for their inhibitory activity against rat lens AR, rat kidney AR, human recombinant AR and generation of AGEs. In addition, in vivo inhibition of lens galactitol accumulation by the major constituents of the plants in galactose-fed rat has been studied. The results revealed that all the tested extracts and their active ingredients possess significant AR inhibitory actions in both in vitro and in vivo assays with urosolic acid showing the most potent effect. Furthermore, the study indicates the potential of the studied plants and their major constituents as possible protective agents against long-term diabetic complications. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.