Family: Scrophulariaceae or Figworts
Synonyms and Common names: Euphrasy
Description and Habitat:
Eyebright is a native British and European plant; naturalized locally in parts of the USA.
It is a small downy annual herb which grows in meadows, pastures, and other grassy areas. It has a square leafy stem, which can grow up to 15cm long, it is often branched near the base, and bears leaves opposite near the base, and alternate above, which are about 1cm long and 0.5cm broad, lanceolate, with four or five teeth on each side.
The flowers are small, white or red, or occasionally yellow, and are often tinged with purple streaks, with a yellow spot in the throat. They are axillary, and two-lipped, with four yellow stamens
Eyebright is an annual hemiparasite of low fertility grasslands particularly dry habitats on calcareous soils, including meadows, roadsides, and lightly grazed pastures.
Eyebright, like its larger cousin yellow rattle, is a parasite, drawing nutrients from the roots of a wide range of meadow plants, including grasses, and legumes. Research has however not established to what extent eyebright debilitates its host plants. or can change, as a result, the balance of species in grassland. It would seem that its influence is more subtle than that of the more substantial yellow rattle.
The seed requires a period of chilling to break dormancy and germinates in early spring. There is no persistent seed bank in the soil.
Parts used: Arial parts
Collection: during the flowering period in late summer and autumn. Gather the whole plant and dry it in an airy place.
Indications: anti-catarrhal, astringent, anti-inflammatory, tonic.
Indications & Therapeutics: Eyebright is an excellent remedy for the problems of mucous membranes.
The combination of anti-inflammatory and astringent properties makes it relevant in many conditions.
Used internally it is a powerful anti-catarrhal and other congestive states.
It is best known for its use in conditions of the eye, where it is helpful in acute or chronic inflammation, stinging and weeping eyes, as well as over-sensitivity to light Used as a compress, and taken internally, it is used in conjunctivitis, and blepharitis, which is a condition where the edges of the eyelids become red and swollen (inflamed).
Contraindications: If taking eyebright causes infection of the eye, discontinue straight away. As with all medications, always try a little first and determine for yourself if this medication is suitable for yourself.
Preparation and dosage:
Infusion: Make an infusion from one teaspoonful of the dried herb and a cupful of boiling water, leave to steep for 10 to 15 minutes, drink 3 times daily.
Compress: Place a teaspoonful of the dried herb in one pint of water and boil for 10 minutes, leave to cool slightly, and moisten a piece of gauze or muslin in the lukewarm liquid. Wring out a little and place over the eyes. Leave the compress in place until it goes cold, and repeat several times daily.
Tincture: Take 1 to 4ml of the tincture three times daily.
Additional comments and Folklore:
Eyebright is a name that has been given to a group of wildflowers which contains many different species. There are nearly forty different types, some of which are quite hard to identify. However, as a guide, the small flowers are white and lilac, with purple veins and a distinct yellow spot in the centre, and are really pretty.
These short, hairy plants often hide in the grass so that they are barely visible, they are very tiny, and are found beside lowland streams and upon heath and mountainsides.
Folklore says to carry eyebright flowers if you want to know if someone is telling the truth, and to enhance the psychic powers.
Folk names of these wildflowers are Christ's eyes and Christ's sight. People used to take an infusion of eyebright to enhance memory.
In the past, eyebright was mixed with coltsfoot to create tobacco to ease asthma.
The name Euphrasia is taken from the name of one of the three Greek Charities, Euphrosyne, and meaning gladness. According to legend, the linnet, a bird whose Greek name comes from the same root, first used this plant to clear the sight of its young, and then passed the knowledge on to mankind.
Spenser, Milton, and other poets mention Eyebright in their poems.
In the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Eyebright Ale was a beverage believed to cheer the spirit.