Screening of bioactive ligands for a certain protein target from medicinal herbs is a highly important yet challenging task during drug discovery process. In this study, a surface plasmon resonance biosensor-based active ingredient recognition system (SPR-AIRS) was applied to screen p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38) ligands from herbal extracts. After p38 protein was immobilized on a SPR chip and the suitability of SPR-AIRS was validated, thirty-four p38-related medicinal herbs were selected and pre-screened. Two medicinal herbs having high response signal with p38-immobilized chip, Folium Ginkgo and Herba Artemisiae Scopariae, were injected into SPR system for ligand fishing. Among them, two active compounds, eupatilin (EPT) and ginkgolide B (GKB), were identified as p38 ligands, and then the KD values of EPT and GKB were measured as 21.68 ± 2.21 and 44.71 ± 1.80 μM, respectively. They can inhibit p38 activities significantly and bind to the ATP binding site on p38. Furthermore, EPT and GKB can inhibit cell proliferation (IC50 = 30.31 ± 6.84 and 42.97 ± 0.83 μM), induce apoptosis and G2/M cell cycle arrest against K562 cell line. This is the first time that EPT and GKB are reported as effective p38 binding ligands. These results prove that SPR-AIRS could be an effective method to screen active compounds acting on a specific protein from complex systems.