Synergy is now a widely recognized approach that has direct applicability for new pharmaceuticals. The ethanolic extract of the aerial parts of the herb Sophora moorcroftiana showed significant antibacterial activity against drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and its minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) was 8 μg/mL. In a phytochemical study of the extract, five flavonoids were obtained. However, the isolates exhibited antibacterial activity in the range of 32–128 μg/mL, which was weaker than the extract. In combination with antibiotics, the antibacterially inactive compound genistein (1) and diosmetin (4) showed significant synergistic activity against drug-resistant S. aureus. In combination with norfloxacin, genistein (1) reduced the MIC to 16 μg/mL and showed synergy against strain SA1199B with a fractional inhibitory concentration index (FICI) of 0.38. With the antibiotics norfloxacin, streptomycin and ciprofloxacin, diosmetin (4) showed synergy against SA1199B, RN4220 and EMRSA-15, with FICI values of 0.38, 0.38 and 0.09, respectively. In an efflux experiment to elucidate a plausible mechanism for the observed synergy, genistein showed marginal inhibition of the NorA efflux protein. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.