PURPOSE: Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use among ethnic minority populations is poorly understood. We sought to examine CAM use in Hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites. METHODS: We analyzed data from the Alternative Health Supplement to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), including information on 19 different CAM therapies used in the past 12 months. RESULTS: An estimated 34% of Hispanic, non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white adults in the United States used at least one CAM therapy (excluding prayer) during the prior 12 months (2002). CAM use was highest for non-Hispanic whites (36%), followed by Hispanics (27%) and non-Hispanic blacks (26%). Non-Hispanic whites were more likely to use herbal medicine, relaxation techniques and chiropractic more frequently than Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks. After controlling for other sociodemographic factors, Hispanic and non-Hispanic black races/ethnicities were associated with less CAM use, with adjusted odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) of 0.78 (0.70, 0.87) and 0.71 (0.65, 0.78), respectively. Hispanics cited using CAM because conventional medical treatments were too expensive more frequently than non-Hispanic blacks or whites. Hispanics had the highest provider nondisclosure rates (68.5%), followed by non-Hispanic blacks (65.1%) and non-Hispanic whites (58.1%). CONCLUSIONS: Excluding prayer, Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks used CAM less frequently than non-Hispanic whites and were less likely to disclose their use to their healthcare provider. Further research is needed to improve our understanding of the disparities in CAM use.