Background Carbon tetra chloride (CCl4), an industrial solvent, is a hepatotoxic agent and it is the well established animal model for free radical-induced liver injury. The present investigation was carried out to establish the protective effect of natansnin, a novel dibenzoyl glycoside from Salvinia natans against CCl4 induced oxidative stress and cellular degeneration in rat liver. Results CCl4 significantly increased the levels of lipid peroxides, oxidized glutathione and decreased the levels of reduced glutathione, SOD and CAT. CCl4 induce marked histopathological changes and increase in the levels of apoptotic proteins. CCl4 treatment significantly increased the levels of apoptotic proteins such as caspases-3, PARP, Bax, Bid and cytochrome C and also increased the levels of inflammatory mediators iNos and Cox-2. Natansnin treatment significantly decreased the levels of CCl4 induced apoptotic proteins and inflammatory mediators. Further natansinin treatment significantly inhibited the CCl4 induced apoptosis which was evident form the reduced TUNEL positive cells. Conclusions In conclusion, our study demonstrated the protective effect of natansnin against CCl4 induced oxidative stress and cellular degeneration in rat liver tissue. This protective effect of natansnin can be correlated to its direct antioxidant effect.