Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) is an annual plant that grows wild in meadows, grassy areas, heaths, and pastures of Britain, northern and western Asia, North America, and Europe. It belongs to the Scrophulariaceae plant family, which also includes the foxglove plant.
Eyebright grows to a height of 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) and has small white or purple flowers with red spots. These petals resemble bloodshot eyes, suggesting the plant's name and its eye-clearing action. Downy hairs cover the stems, which produce toothed leaves.
Eyebright is a semiparasitic plant. This means that it is nourished by the roots of other plants. Generally, it does not grow well if transplanted from the wild. The plant is harvested during the late summer or fall when the flowers are in bloom. The whole plant is cut off just above the root and then dried.
Eyebright contains vitamins A, C, D, and B complex; iron; silicon; and traces of iodine, copper, and zinc. Other components of eyebright include tannins, iridoid glycosides, the flavonoids rutin and quercetin, essential fatty acids, glycoside aucuboside, caffeic and ferulic acids, sterols, choline, and a volatile oil.
The Latin name Euphrasia is derived from the Greek word "Euphrosyne," meaning gladness. Euphrosyne
Eyebright has been used as a folk medicine to treat eye inflammations and infections, coughs, and poor memory since the Middle Ages. The poet Milton mentions eyebright in his book Paradise Lost, in which the archangel Michael gives eyebright to Adam to cure an eye infection. In 1485, eyebright was listed in a German book on medicinal herbs. Many sixteenth century herbalists championed eyebright as a treatment for various eye diseases. During the time of Queen Elizabeth, an eyebright ale was popular. Dried eyebright was often combined with tobacco and smoked to provide relief for bronchial colds.
Modern herbalists still prescribe eyebright as a popular remedy for eye irritations and disorders, such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis. Icelanders use the juice from the pressed plant to treat most eye afflictions. Scottish people make an infusion in milk for inflamed or weak eyes. Eyebright is used to treat poor vision, eye strain, eye infections, sensitivity to light, and eye ulcers. Eyebright's antiseptic properties are highly regarded in soothing and cooling eyes that itch, burn, weep, and are red.
Eyebright is beneficial in the treatment of coughs, colds, allergies, sinusitis, hay fever, earaches, headaches, jaundice, throat and bronchial congestion, hoarseness, flu, and sinus inflammation. The flavonoids in eyebright act as anti-inflammatory agents that can help relieve inflamed mucous membranes of the eyes, sinuses, and upper respiratory tract. Eyebright's astringent properties also help reduce inflammation and mucous drainage, making the plant a popular remedy for many allergy, cold, and sinus symptoms.
The stems, leaves, and flowers of the plant are collected and dried for medicinal use. Eyebright is often combined with goldenseal to treat eye afflictions. Eyebright may also be combined with goldenrod, elder flower, and/or goldenseal to provide relief from congestion.
In homeopathy, Euphrasia officinalis is a remedy used to treat colds accompanied by a nonirritating, watery nasal discharge and frequent burning tears. Conjunctivitis with symptoms of red eyes and lips, and acrid, watery tears may also be treated with this remedy. Euphrasia officinalis is also used as a remedy for measles and allergies.
Eyebright is available in bulk form for teas or compresses, and in capsule and tincture forms. Capsules and tinctures should be used as directed on the commercial package.
To make a tea, 1 cup of boiling water is poured over 2-3 teaspoons of dried eyebright and steeped for 5-10 minutes. One cup should be drunk three times daily to maintain eyesight, relieve nasal congestion, and soothe coughs. This infusion can also be used as an eye bath to treat inflamed or painful eyes. The mixture is cooled, and then the eyes are bathed with the warm liquid three to four times daily.
To make a compress, 1-2 tablespoons of dried eyebright are simmered in 1 pint (0.4 l) of water for 10 minutes. The mixture is cooled and then strained. A clean cloth is dipped in the mixture, wrung out, and then placed over the eyes for 15 minutes several times daily. Caution should be used when applying compresses. An unsterilized, homemade compress of eyebright may contain bacteria that could lead to an eye infection.
A qualified herbalist should be consulted before administering eyebright to children. Although herbalists maintain the benefits of eyebright, there are no known scientific studies or research to validate these claims.
If a tincture solution of eyebright is placed on the eyes, tearing, itching, reddening, and swelling of the eyelids may develop because of the alcohol in the tincture. Eyebright may also cause a skin rash or nausea.
There are no known interactions.
Pahlow, Mannfried. Healing Plants. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1993.