Image courtesy of Rasbak. CC BY-SA 3.0 license.



The pretty little Eyebright is the subject under review. Here we look at the species along with its past medicinal uses.

The Eyebright belongs to the Order of plants known as the Lamiales and is placed in the Family Orobanchaceae. The genus name for the Eyebright is Euphrasia and the specific name is officinalis , which indicates it was sold as a drug in the Apothecary. An alternative specific name is rostkoviana.

The name Eyebright derives from the fact it had reputed qualities in the treatment of eye ailments. The genus name of Euphrasia derives from the Greek euphraino , meaning to gladden and probably alludes to the plants reputed medicinal power 'gladdening the eye'

Some of the first writers to record its medicinal properties are, Arnoldus de Villa Nova, who flourished at the beginning of the 14th century, and Gordon who published his Lilium Medicinae in 1305. The older poets, who have noticed this plant also wrote of its reputed remedial powers with which, in their day, it was so confidently invested. For instance Milton conveys that---


" Michael from Adam's eyes the film removed,

Which the false fruit, that promised clearer sight,

Had bred; then purges with Euphrasy and Rue

The visual nerve, for he had much to see "

And Shenstone exclaims--

" Famed Euphracy may not be left unsung,

That gives dim eyes to wander league's around"

Euphrasia indicating to 'gladden' is an apt name for this pretty little plant for few who love flowers would look upon it without admiring its beauty. Its little blooms are dotted and sprinkled over the sides of chalky cliffs, or they stud the short grassland of mountainous regions, open heath or almost hidden by the taller herbage of pasture and grass lands where they occur

As always an apt place to commence this review is with a description of the species.

Components of eyebright.

Cpurtesy of the BHL.Billderafnorden's Flora { 1917-1927}

Description of the Eyebright.

The root of this species is annual, somewhat twisted, of a dark brown colour, linear and furnished with several whitish coloured fibres. Eyebright tends to vary a great deal in size, sometimes it is only an inch or so high and only producing one bloom, at others, in situations that are ideal for it, becomes much larger and branched with many blossoms among the foliage, as the photograph above shows, to around eight inches or so. The Eyebright is the only British species of the genus that contains many species across Europe, Western Asia and North America.

Above the ground, it appears to be an ordinary plant with its stems, foliage and flowers, but below the surface, suckers from its roots spread across and lie on the rootlets of grass plants among which it grows. Where they are in contact, tiny nodules form and send absorption cells in to the grass rootlets. The grass itself does not suffer very much, as the cells penetrate but a slight distance. Moreover the Eyebright being an annual, renewing itself from year to year, the suckers on the grass roots to which they are attached also wither in the autumn, so there is no permanent drain of strength from the grass.

The foliage also varies sometimes they are nearly round, at other times pointed and narrow, their margins however, are always deeply toothed. The stem is erect and wiry the leaves are one eighth to half an inch long and about a quarter of an inch broad. they are situated opposite to each other on the lower part of the stem, but tend to be alternate on the higher part. Sometimes these leaves are much broader in some specimens, with four to five teeth on each side.

The flowers which may be lilac or white with purple veins are in terminal spikes with leafy bracts among them. The corolla,{petals etc} is two lipped, the lower tube-like portion being enclosed in the green calyx, {sepals etc} which is tipped with four teeth. the upper lip is two lobed and it covers the stamens, thus sheltering them from the weather. The lower lip is spreading and consists of three lobes, each of these lobes are notched. A yellow patch enhances the middle lobe and acts as a honey guide for the pollinating insects, this yellow colouring is on both the upper and lower lips.


The flower produces four stamens which are of a brown colour slightly hairy anthers which lie beneath the upper lip, they are situated in pairs one behind the other. On the underside of each anther is a stiff spur When a bee visits the flower to procure the honey which is secreted at the bottom of the petal tube,it knocks against the projecting anther spurs which in turn sets free the pollen.

Once pollination has occurred and the flowers have faded they are succeeded by the seed capsules which are tiny and flattened. They are numerous and ribbed.



Image courtesy of Roland Teuscher CC BY-SA 3.0 license.Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported license.

Medicinal history.

The Eyebright, has a long association with medicinal preparations. For instance in Gordon's Medicum 1305, among the medicines for the eyes Euphrasia is named, however, there is no mention of it in the Schola Saternitana complied about 1100. Markham in his book 'Countrie Farm '-1616, states ' Drinke everie morning a small draught of Eyebright wine'.

It is probable, that the belief in its virtues as an eye medicine originated in the 'Doctrine of signatures' ,{ which was a belief that, every  plant had a divine sign, in either colour or form of the disease it was meant to cure}. An old writer pointed out-" the purple and yellow spots and stripes which are upon the flowers of the eyebright doth very much resemble the diseases of the eye, as bloodshot etc, by which signature it hath been found out that this herb is effectual for the curing of the same"

Herbalists of that time recommended that Euphrasia was collected in July and August, when the flower and the leaves are in the best condition and it was in its fresh state that it was used. In one archaic herbal it describes Eyebright as being ' Almost destitute of odour, but somewhat bitter, slightly aromatic, and styptic to taste. Its astringency is manifested buy the dark colour produced in the decoction by sulphate of iron. The juice gives a slight purple tinge to blue paper.'.


Herbalists of that time recommended that Euphrasia was collected in July and August, when the flower and the leaves are in the best condition and it was in its fresh state that it was used. In one archaic herbal it describes Eyebright as being ' Almost destitute of odour, but somewhat bitter, slightly aromatic, and styptic to taste. Its astringency is manifested buy the dark colour produced in the decoction by sulphate of iron. The juice gives a slight purple tinge to blue paper.'.

In those times no plant was celebrated more than this one for its anti-orphthalmic virtues. Hildanus and Lanzonus attributed to it, the restoration to sight of persons of the age of seventy or eighty years. Arnoldus, Fuchs,Hoffman Lobel and a great many others have extolled its virtues in dimness of sight, cataracts, inflammation  and other diseases of the eyes.


According to Olatsen, the expressed juice of the plant is used by the Icelanders in all affections of the eyes, and Lightfoot states that the Scottish Highlanders make an infusion of it in milk and anoint the patient's eyes with it by means of a feather. It was also commended in Jaundice, loss of memory, vertigo and other similar affections.

Eyebright has been given in a powder form administered at one or two ounces twice a day. Culpeper {1600's} stated " If the herb, was but as much used as it is neglected, it would half spoil the spectacle-makers trade ".

Modern day uses and warnings.

The actions of the Eyebright in modern day herbal medicine are regarded as being anti-catarrhal, astringent and anti-inflammatory. It is reputed to be an excellent remedy for mucous membranes, and the combined properties make it useful against many disorders. It is still recommended {in commercially produced preparations} for rhinitis, conjunctivitis and chronic nasal catarrh.

Some state that as an eye lotion in combines well with Golden seal and distilled Witch Hazel. However, there seems to be a difference of professional opinion about the use of Eyebright preparations, many of which are readily available on the internet. It is mainly employed as an eye wash. Although it is readily available to buy in all its forms I would urge the reader to read the following paragraphs.

According to the website drugs.com, the efficacy of Eyebright has not been proven in the treatment of eye disorders and application to the eyes may be unsanitary, the use of Eyebright for use in the eye is not generally recommended. They also state ' Eyebright should not be used in the eyes if you wear any type of contact lenses or if you have had any recent eye surgery {laser vision correction, cataract surgery or Cornea surgery}. Ladies that are pregnant should not take Eyebright as it is not known if Eyebright does any damage to the unborn baby. Likewise it is not known if Eyebright will cause any harm whilst breast feeding babies.'

Although it is very rare, allergic reactions to Eyebright have been recorded. The symptoms of such a reaction may include difficulty with breathing, a closing of the throat, swelling of the lips, tongue or face. These are usually associated with large or prolonged doses of Eyebright. other side effects of the drug may include itching and redness to the eyes or swelling of the eye lids. Confusion, weakness, sneezing or a running nose. Constipation, yawning and insomnia. This is not a complete list of the possible side affects but it does show that one need to be careful when taking medicines in any form. before taking medicine which contains Eyebright seek advise from a qualified herbalist or your doctor.

Euphrasia minima.

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