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Saturday, April 21, 2012


Eyebright is a plant which is native to western Europe including Britain and to East Asia. It is a member of the Scrophulariaceae or figwort family, so it is related to mullein, toadflax, foxglove, snap dragon and brahmi or water hyssop to name just a few of its relatives. It is the only one of the Euphrasia genus to be native to Britain.
  To me it looks a little like a viola but different colours. However I haven’t seen one in the wild for quite some time.
   As its name suggests Eyebright has been a remedy for eye complaints for centuries, although seems not to have been used by the Romans, as there is no mention of it in Pliny's or Dioscorides' works.
  It was, in Elizabethan times, used as a tisane and in an Eyebright ale and wine, used to clear the sight and for any eye problems that occurred. There has not been much research into the properties of this plant but some scientists have warned people not to use the herb for ophthalmic problems, although the European Medical Agency have basically said that there is insufficient evidence to say if it works or not, but it seems to, without any reported ill-effects.
  Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century English herbalist had this to say of Eyebright:-
“Government and virtues. It is under the sign of the Lion, and Sol claims dominion over it. The juice or distilled water of eye-bright, taken inwardly in white wine or broth, or dropped into the eyes, for divers days together, helps all infirmities of the eyes that cause dimness of sight. Some make conserve of the flowers to the same effect. Being used any of the ways, it also helps a weak brain, or memory. This tunned up with strong beer, that it may work together, and drank; or the powder of the herb mixed with sugar, a little mace, and fennel-seed, and drank, or eaten in broth; or the said powder made into an electuary with sugar, and taken, has the same powerful effect to help and restore the sight decayed through age; and Arnoldus de Ville Nova says, it has restored sight to them that have been blind a long time before.”
  Arnaldus de Villa Nova lived between circa 1235 and 1311, and was an alchemist, astrologer and physician. He was the reputed author of many works including the first book on wine to have a mass (at the time) circulation. In quoting him, Culpeper demonstrates the antiquity of the use of the plant, and it should be noted that the medicinal wisdom of that time was very different from that of today.
  The genus name, Euphrasia comes from the Greek and could refer to one of the three Graces of mythology (Euphrosyne) who was renowned for her joy and mirth. It might also refer to the song bird, the linnet, which, it was said, removed the film from her nestlings’ eyes with this herb. Linnet is Euphrosyne in Greek. If your dimmed sight was restored, it would certainly make you feel joyful, so I guess that is the logic behind the herb’s name.
  The whole plant is said to have astringent properties (due to its tannin content) as well as being a diuretic, and digestive. The infusion of the plant can be taken internally or used as an eyewash. It has been dried and used in herbal tobacco for chest ailments. The iridoids in the plant are believed to be anti-inflammatory which is why it can relieve pain in the eyes.
  Eyebright contains the flavonoids apigenin, luteolin, kaempferol, rhamnatin and quercetin among others so will have antioxidant properties.
  Culpeper has this remedy in his herbal, which he calls “A Marvellous Water for the Sight”:-
 “… leaves of red roses, mints, sage, maidenhair (fern), (or leave out sage and mint) and take eyebright and vervain, bittony (betony), such of the mountain and endive (chicory) of each six handfuls; steep them in white wine 24 hours; then distil them in an alembic; first water is like silver, the second gold, the third like balme; keep it close in glasses.”
  Another remedy was similar but used the following ingredients, fennel, eyebright, roses, white celandine, vervain and rue and a handful of each with the liver of a goat. However this one is certainly not to be recommended.
  A more modern remedy using eyebright is to take equal parts of chamomile flowers and the eyebright herb (aerial parts) and infuse in 0.25 litres of freshly boiled water and leaves to steep for 15 minutes before straining through muslin and using as an eyewash. Alternately you can take three parts eyebright, and one part each of melilot and plantain dried, and add 1 soupspoon full to a cup of boiling water; again leave to steep for 15 minutes before straining and using as an eye compress.
  Eyebright has been mentioned by some of the great poets of English literature such as John Milton who wrote these lines in Paradise Lost Book XI after Adam’s Fall from Paradise: -
   “….Of nobler sights
Michael from Adam’s eye the film removed,
Then purged with euphrasine and rue
His visual orbs, for he had much to see.” 
Edmund Spenser also makes reference to Eyebright in the second book of the Faerie Queene and writing later, the Pre-Raphaelite poet, Dante Gabriel Rosetti wrote in his poem The Love-Moon:-
“How canst thou gaze into those eyes of hers
Whom now they heart delights in, and not see
Within each orb Love’s philtred euphrasy
Make them of buried troth remembrances?”
“With Euphrasy to purge away the mists
Which, humid, dim the mirror of the mind;”
  Clearly the herb had its followers, and is probably safe to use, although you should, of course, only do so under medical supervision.

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