Common Names

Eyebright ; Bright-eye ; Bird's-eye
Botanical Name
Euphrasia officinalis

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What is it?

In herbal medicine we use the aerial parts of Eyebright; a short lived herb that can reach up to about 30 cm in height. Its leaves have jagged toothy edges and its flowers also vary between white, red or yellow, they usually have a yellow spot in the throat. The botanical name for Eyebright comes from one of the Greek Graces ‘Euphrosyne’ which means ‘Gladness’. Its common name is not accidental and Eyebright has some wonderful folk-stories attached to its reputation for improving eye-sight and healing diseases of the eye.




How has it been used?

From how it earned its name Eyebright has, of course, chiefly been used to assist with ailments of the eyes; conjunctivitis, red-eye, styes, itchy eyes, stinging eyes and weak vision from diverse causes.

Eyebright had the folklore reputation to be able to restore sight to people after their 'three score and 10' (70 years of age). Whilst this probably sounds like a complete exaggeration it should be considered that many such ageing people may have had degenerative changes to the structure of their eyes that could have been considerably improved with the regular use of Eyebright.

The famous poet Milton wrote
"Michael from Adam's eye the film removed
Which the false fruit, that promised clearer sight
Had bred, then purged with Euphrasy (Eyebright) and Rue
The visual nerve, for he had much to see'

The much loved 18th century poet Shenstone wrote
'Famed Euphrasy (Eyebright) may not be left unsung
That gives dim eyes to wander leagues around

The influential Roman physician Dioscorides was particularly fond of using it for the many eye infections he saw whilst accompanying the Roman Legions through their rather numerous trips around Europe at the time!

Eyebright was used by the Scottish Highlanders in a lotion mixed with milk and applied to the eyes with a feather and in Iceland the expressed juice was used to treat a variety of eye complaints.


Science on Eyebright

~ There haven't been any clinical trials with people using Eyebright but it has had some interesting laboratory exploration all the same. Eyebright contains constituents called iridoid glycosides including one particular substance called aucubin.

~ Aucubin demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects on tissue swelling when given orally or applied topically (Recio M, Giner RM, Manez ML, Fernandez B et al. Planta Med 1994; 60: 512-515)

~ Aucubin (or more precisely a metabolite of aucubin called aucubigenin) showed significant antiviral activity against the hepatitis B virus as well as notable antibacterial and antifungal effects in laboratory studies (Batholomaeus A, Ahokas J. Toxicol Lett 1995; 80:75-83)

Safety of Eyebright
Eyebright is very safe to take internally by the young or old, whilst pregnant or breastfeeding however great caution is required in using Eyebright to bathe the eyes in whichever form it is used and I strongly encourage people to carefully follow the steps at the bottom of this article to ensure no unwanted foreign material is introduced to the eye when using it as a direct treatment for eye problems.


Personal experiences

Eyebright is a quirky little herb. It does not like to grow in healthy soil but rather prefers desolate, dirty, malnourished places to thrive, almost as if it is telling us; 'Hey! Look over here!'

Having personally used Eyebright for my own occasional eye troubles and having recommended it to many hundreds of patients I can say with complete confidence that Eyebright really is a marvellous remedy from Nature for the eyes. Its effects on red, sore or infected eyes are remarkably good and it works gratifyingly quickly.

Eyebright combines a soothing, astringent; (toning), cleansing and anti-inflammatory action that almost always seems to relieve eye pain or fatigue very rapidly.

The benefits of using Eyebright regularly for weakened eyesight and strained eyes cannot be overstated and a simple eyebath once a day every day may prevent a great many troubles in time to come if a person adopts this painless and simple habit (some instructions on 'how to' given below).

I have also used Eyebright quite often in tea formulae where I want a particularly soothing medicine for the mouth and throat. I think that this is a herb that works best when it is in direct contact with the body.

Eyebright combines perfectly with Chamomile and Fennel for treating eye problems and there is another recipe that uses those herbs as well written up in the section on eye problems here.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Eyebright is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Eyebright can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.

Eyebright eye treatment

Take 10 drops of Eyebright tincture or 30mls of well strained and freshly made Eyebright tea.

If using the tincture pour 30mls of freshly boiled water over the drops and allow to cool to a comfortable temperature but don't use it cold i.e. keep it warm to some extent!

Using an eye-cup that has been rinsed with boiling water pour the eye-cup to about a third full. Place the cup over your eye and tilt your head back, making sure you open and shut your eye a few times and also making sure you look side to side and up and down whilst your eye is open to let the herb solution to get everywhere.

Discard the used solution and repeat at least twice, putting fresh solution into the eye cup each time.

If the eye is bad then the treatment needs to be repeated frequently until resolved. Regular use of this treatment is may strengthen weakened eyes - use patiently!

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd