Eyebright is scientifically classified as Euphrasia. Some common names of Euphrasia are eyebright, meadow eyebright, and red eyebright.
What is Eyebright?
Eyebright is an annual plant that grows 2 to 8 inches tall in its common habitat. It has deep-cut leaves and small flowers that vary in color. The stem of the eyebright plant is thin and stiff, and the leaves grow approximately 1/6 to 1/2 inch long by 1/4 inch across with four or five teeth on each side of the leaf.
It is a hemi-parasitic plant that steals its food by attaching to other plants around it. This makes the Eyebright plant difficult to harvest. The ideal times to harvest the plants are in the summer when they are in full bloom. The flower is cut just about the root and an extract of the fluid is prepared. Unfortunately, due to the high demand for eyebright, the plant is quickly becoming an endangered species.
The eyebright plant is indigenous to Europe, especially in Britain. It grows well in the open grasslands or meadows, especially those in temperate climate regions. The majority of eyebright sold comes from Europe, however, it has been found in Northern and Western Asia, as well as North America. The plant is best grown in areas of rich soil, where it can grow into a small bush that can gain upwards of 8 to 9 inches in height.
Though it thrives in open fields, eyebright can grow in rocky areas or in poor soil. However, in these conditions, the height of the plant is typically only a scant inch high, and the stem does not branch as fully as it would in an open meadow or grassland.
History and Origins
Since medieval times, herbalists have used eyebright in lotion form to refresh eyes and in tinctures to help cure eye ailments. As the ancient peoples recognize that plants that resemble a part of the body seem to aid in correcting issues with that body part, they started to cultivate those plants. Since the eyebright flower, in full bloom, resembles the human eye when it is “bloodshot”, people believed it to be able to cure eye ailments.
In ancient times, some believed that a tea of eyebright will aid mental clarity and psychic powers. They would place cotton pads infused with an eyebright tincture over their closed eyes to induce clairvoyance, and they believed that carrying eyebright with you could help you see through lies and deceit.
Publications such as Gordon’s “Liticium Medicina” in 1305 and Markham’s “Countrie Farm” in 1616 both list the eyebright herb as effective treatments for eye ailments. The herb was highly recommended by the Mantuan physician Matthaeus Sylvaticus and was the subject of a treatise by Arnoldus Villanovanus. Even some poets, like John Milton, wrote of the medicinal uses of eyebright.
A German book on medicinal herbs was published in 1485 listing eyebright among one of the herbs used to cure eye ailments. Eyebright was especially popular in the age of Queen Elizabeth I, when people drank eyebright ale. Eyebright was also prescribed in tobacco form and was smoked to relieve bronchial colds.
Eyebright was again made popular in the 17th century by Nicholas Culpepper who believed it strengthened the brain, so he equated the herb to the Zodiac sign Leo. It is widely used throughout Europe and even in some African countries.
Today, people in Iceland use the juice expressed from the plant for eye ailments, and the Highlanders of Scotland infuse it in milk and sooth tired or sore eyes by dipping a feather in the infusion and applying it to the eyes. People in Britain are still using the herb to ease the suffering from chronic bronchial maladies by adding the dried herb to their herbal tobacco and smoking it.
There are about 450 different species of Eyebright, but they are all used in the same manner. Herbalists have determined that no one has different medicinal properties than the others. This is especially important since the colors can vary, with the most common colors being blue-white, purple and violet. There is also a yellow dot on most of the flowers to assist bees with pollination of the plants.
- Iridoid glycosides
- Phenolic acids
- Volatile oils.
One of the first uses of eyebright has been the treatment of ailments associated with the human eye. Eyebright contains astringent compounds called tannins that can reduce inflammation and swelling in the eye and also create a protective coating on the surface of the eye.
Eyebright is also quite useful in treating respiratory conditions such as allergies, bronchitis, colds, and sinusitis. The tannins in eyebright can reduce the mucus production, which relieves the symptoms of respiratory conditions and even increases the firmness of the tissues in the respiratory system.
Eyebright can be used topically or orally. As an eye wash, combine ½ teaspoon (2,000 mg) fresh or dried eyebright with 1 cup of brandy or gin (250 mL). Pour mixture into an airtight container. Shake the container every 2 to 3 days and strain the mixture after one month. Add 30 drops of tincture to 1 cup boiling water. If you are unsure how to mix the eye wash or eye drops properly, both items can be found commercially in sterile packaging.
For oral use, a tea made with eyebright is quite effective. Simply add ½-1 level teaspoon (2,000-4,000 mg) dried eyebright to 5 ounces of boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain the tea for drinking. Eyebright also comes as extracts and in capsule form and in different strengths, depending on the intended use of the product. If bought at a store with packaging, please follow the instructions for use on the package.
Dr. Christopher’s, Herbal Remedies, Nature’s Way, and Quantum Herbal Products are some of the more recognizable names on the market, though they are certainly not the only manufacturers of the variety of eyebright products. Some even believe eyebright may even have antibacterial properties from the caffeic acid in the plant. This theory has not been fully explored. The effects on pregnant and lactating mothers have not been determined.
Dosage and Administration
Dosage depends on the severity of the problem. For issues such as blepharitis, conjunctivitis, and eyestrain, a simple poultice can be applied. A tea can also be made to compliment the external treatment. Some believe taking an herbal supplement of eyebright can maintain or increase their eye health. Before using eyebright for any type of condition, you should consult your doctor.
The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 (England) has listed eyebright as vulnerable. Many countries in Europe are taking measures to insure the survival of the plant.
The United States Food and Drug Administration has not fully recognized eyebright for treatment of eye ailments and certain respiratory conditions. Because the medical community was not greatly utilizing eyebright as an effect treatment of eye ailments, there is little research presently completed on the effectiveness of eyebright. (The USFDA typically uses established research studies to give preliminary approval for a substance to be medicinally used until such time as their own research studies are completed.)
Eyebright should not be used if you have had recent eye surgery or if you wear contact lenses.
Allergic reactions to eyebright are rare, but could occur. If you are taking eyebright and develop hives, have difficulty breathing, or your lips or tongue swell, stop using it immediately and contact your physician.
Studies have been published recently indicating that large amounts of eyebright taken orally or as an eye wash can be hazardous. Their research indicates the use of eyebright can be detrimental to eye health and has no real healing properties at all.
For commercially packaged eyebright tinctures or eye drops, prices can range from $7.82 for a 1 oz. bottle to $15.99 for a 2 oz. bottle.
Herbal eyebright supplements can range in cost from $7.60 to $17.99, depending on the strength of the tablets or capsules and the quantity purchased.
Eyebright herbal teas sell between $5.29 to $11.95, and purchasing the dried plant itself can cost anywhere from $8.40 for 4 oz. to $45.92 for various amounts. Lifebalm.com sells eyebright in powder form for $42.49 for a 4 oz. package.
Where to Purchase
There are many online venues to purchase eyebright in its various forms: amazon.com, iHerb.com, and mynaturalmarket.com are among some of the websites that sell eyebright tinctures and supplements. Prices will vary from website to website, as will shipping and handling charges.
Local apothecary and herbalist stores are the most common places to find eyebright. However, before purchasing locally manufactured products from these stores, you should make yourself aware of the credentials of the person making the product. Some local stores do carry the professionally manufactured, “factory sealed” products that are more likely to not cause adverse reactions to the product.
Because of the risk of infection and/or adverse reaction to medications, before using any product either topically or internally, you should consult with your physician.