In this article, surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) of different concentrations of brilliant green (BG) on Ag nanoparticles (AgNPs) has been investigated. The results indicate that only 10-6 M BG can be detected on AgNPs while as low as 10-12 M BG can be detected upon the activation of AgNPs by chloride ions. The additional improvement of the detection of BG mainly derives from the increase of the electromagnetic field around AgNPs and partially from the reorientation of BG on AgNPs induced by chloride ions, which was proved by the different spectra feature in the two systems. Adsorption of BG on AgNPs has also been demonstrated in applications of living cells as optical probes based on SERS, indicating that dye-AgNPs can probe the local environment in the living cells. The related cytotoxicity measurements demonstrated that BG-AgNPs produced little cytotoxicity to the cells, which shows great potential in biomedical applications of BG labeled-AgNPs for SERS nanosensors in cells as optical probes. Meanwhile, SERS spectra of BG on AgNPs in the presence chloride ions are expected to be used in living cells as more sensitive optical probes.