Extraction optimization, characterization and antioxidant activity in vitro of polysaccharides from mulberry leaves (MLP) were investigated in the present study. The optimal extraction conditions with an extraction yield of 10.0 ± 0.5% for MLP were determined as follows: extraction temperature 92 °C, extraction time 3.5h and ratio (v/w, mL/g) of extraction solvent (water) to raw material 34. Two purified fractions, MLP-3a and MLP-3b with molecular weights of 80.99 and 3.64 kDa, respectively, were obtained from crude MLP by chromatography of DEAE-Cellulose 52 and Sephadex G-100. Fourier transform-infrared spectroscopy revealed that crude MLP, MLP-3a and MLP-3b were acidic polysaccharides. Furthermore, crude MLP and MLP-3a had more complicated monosaccharide compositions, while MLP-3b had a relatively higher content of uronic acid. Crude MLP, MLP-3a and MLP-3b exhibited potent Fe(2+) chelating power and scavenging activities on 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl, hydroxyl, superoxide and 2,2'-azinobis-(3-ethyl-benzothiazolin-6-sulfonic acid) radicals. The results suggested that MLP could be explored as natural antioxidant.