Eyebright is a herb that’s native to the heaths and dry meadows of Europe.
Eyebright flower parts were traditionally used to manage eye infections, alleviate cold symptoms, and reduce inflammation. It has also been used to help with allergy symptoms.
This article will look at the health benefits of eyebright, its safety, and history.
Table of Contents
What is Eyebright?
Eyebright is a small, flowering herb famous for helping with various eye conditions.
The scientific name for this herb is Euphrasia officinalis. It thrives in poor, chalky soil throughout Europe, North America, and Northern/Western Asia.
Traditional accounts recommend eyebright for conditions with eye and nose mucous discharge, congested coughs, and other upper and lower respiratory issues. In ancient various European cultures, eyebright was revered for its ability to improve poor eyesight.
Modern research suggests that this herb has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. Research also shows its ability to protect against oxidative stress with its antioxidant properties.
Some of eyebright’s main active constituents, like luteolin and quercetin, may be responsible for its various health benefits.
Health Benefits of Eyebright:
A combination of clinical research, traditional knowledge, and contemporary herbalists have observed various eyebright benefits. Below are the primary health benefits of eyebright and its main constituents.
1. May Support Eye Health
Various studies and traditional accounts suggest that eyebright supports the healing of some eye conditions.
The whole eye, including tissue and structures, can become infected by viruses and bacteria. Symptoms of an eye infection include redness, itching, irritation, mucous discharge, and excessive tearing. Eye infections are highly contagious and, if left untreated, can result in blurred vision or blindness.
In a randomized trial observing infants with eye discharge, Euphrasia eye drops® reduced the symptoms, like redness and tearing. Although the eyebright drops did not significantly improve treatment success, researchers noted that they could alleviate associated symptoms.
Another clinical study involving patients with eye conjunctivitis (pink eye) discovered that eyebright eye drops reduced symptoms and/or cured more than 85% of participants. The best results occurred when patients received 1 drop, 3x per day.
In a lab-based study observing human eye cells, researchers noted that eyebright extract shows promising therapeutic effects for eye disorders, like dry eye and ocular allergies. Eyebright appears to be able to do this by reducing inflammation.
A combination lab-based study involving eyebright and chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) eye drops (Dacriovis™) observed that the eye drops protected eye cells from UVB radiation-induced cell death and improved healing conditions. The drops achieved these results by providing an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect on the eye cells.
The European Medicines Agency suggests taking eyebright for “symptomatic treatment and prevention of conjunctivitis…[and] minor ocular (eye) diseases.”
The American Botanical Council recommends this herb for “the treatment of conjunctivitis, sties, and other ailments of the eye.”
AHG Registered Herbalist, David Hoffmann, explains that Euphrasia officinalis is supportive of eye conditions like “acute or chronic inflammations, stinging and weeping eyes, and oversensitivity to light.”
World-renowned herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar, suggests well-strained eyebright tea “as an eyewash or compress for eye fatigue, conjunctivitis, sties, and other congestive conditions of the eye with profuse tearing.”
In A Modern Herbal, revered herbalist Maude Grieve recommends eyebright for “diseases of the sight, weakness of the eyes, ophthalmia,…[and] general disorders of the eyes.”
In the King’s American Dispensatory, Dr. Felter and Dr.Lloyd discuss eyebright’s support of “catarrhal ophthalmia,” which refers to an inflamed eye coupled with discharge.
Summary:Clinical research has found that eyebright may promote eye health by benefitting conditions such as inflammation and pink eye.
2. Potential Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Lab-based studies and modern reviews suggest that eyebright is beneficial for reducing inflammation and regulating the inflammatory response.
Inflammation is a response triggered by the body’s immune system. This response occurs when the body experiences trauma, infection, toxins, and/or physical overuse. While short-term inflammation is an essential part of the healing process, chronic inflammation is a signal that there is a more significant physiological issue.
A lab-based trial involving eyebright extract discovered that some extracts exhibited an anti-inflammatory effect on eye cells.
Another lab-based study observing eyebright and chamomileeye drops (Dacriovis™) found that the drops had an anti-inflammatory effect. This helped to improve eye cell recovery after exposure to harmful sun rays.
A third lab-based study found that eyebright reduces skin cell damage from UVB-induced radiation by reducing inflammation. The extract also demonstrated an antioxidant effect.
David Hoffmann writes that eyebright is helpful for eye conditions with “acute or chronic inflammation” and that the herb’s “combination of anti-inflammatory and astringent properties [make] it relevant for many conditions”.
Summary:Lab-based studies indicate that eyebright may lower inflammation, especially around the eye.
3. May Support Respiratory Health
Traditionally, eyebright has been used to fight respiratory conditions with cold-like symptoms.
Respiratory tract infections are often accompanied by symptoms like a runny nose, sinus irritation, mucus or phlegm in the lungs, and headaches.
The European Medicines Agency recommends eyebright “for [the] symptomatic treatment of cold[s].”
The American Botanical Council suggests eyebright for “conditions such as fever, cough, sore throat, and earache.”
David Hoffmann writes that eyebright “is an excellent remedy for mucous membrane problems…such as rhinitis (common cold), sinusitis (sinus infection), hay fever (seasonal allergies), acute coryza (common cold), irritable sneezing, and lachrymation (excessive tearing)”.
In Planting the Future, Rosemary Gladstar explains that eyebright is “useful for a wet cough and hoarseness; for earache and headache associated with a cold; [and] for congestion of the frontal sinus….”
Traditional herbalist Maude Grieve discusses that eyebright “acts specifically on the mucous lining of the eyes and nose and the upper part of the throat to the top of the windpipe, causing…a profuse secretion from these parts.” This suggests that this herb clears our mucous congestion from these respiratory areas.
Summary:Traditional herbalism indicates that eyebright may benefit respiratory conditions. Clinical research is needed for confirmation of this finding.
4. Other Benefits
Other purported eyebright health benefits include:
•May have Antimicrobial Properties: a lab-based study observing eyebright essential oil, researchers discovered that the oil exhibited an antimicrobial effect against various bacteria strains, including Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, S. epidermidis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Candida albicans.
•Antioxidant Effects: A lab-based study found that some of eyebright’s phenolic compounds demonstrated antioxidant effects.
Summary:Eyebright has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Safety Class: 1
Interaction Class: A
Eyebright is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA.
Although no human studies have resulted in adverse events, eyebright did affect glucose regulation in one animal study. The Botanical Safety Handbook recommends that people with diabetes monitor their blood sugar closely if they use eyebright.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
It is not recommended to use eyebright during pregnancy and lactation due to limited safety data.
Standard dosing for eyebright is as follows:
Infusion (tea): Add 1 cup of boiling water to 1 teaspoon of dried herb. Infuse for 5 to 10 minutes. Drink 1 cup, 3x per/day.
Tincture (1:5): 1-4 mL, 3x/day.
Compress: Add 1 teaspoon of dried herb to 1 pint of water. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes then turn off heat. Let cool slightly and dampen a cloth with the lukewarm liquid. Gently wring out and place over the eye/s. Leave the compress on for 15 minutes and repeat 3x/day.
Liquid Extract (1:1): 1-2 mL, 3x/day.
Capsules/Dietary Supplements: 400 – 470 mg, 2-3x/day.
Eye Drops: 1+ drops as needed, 3-5x/day.
Euphrasia 10% EyeDrops®: 1 – 2 drops, 3-6x/day.
Dacriovis™: 2 drops, 3x/day.
Eyebright is on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list, implying that human activities significantly impact this herb.
Since the herb is an annual, it is necessary to allow eyebright to go to seed for it to return the following season. It’s “at risk” status reflects the irresponsible harvesting of the herb. It is imperative to source cultivated and responsibly harvested eyebright for therapeutic uses.
Various eyebright species are “threatened” or “endangered” in the following states: Maine, Michigan, and New Hampshire.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Eyebright’s scientific name is Euphrasia officinalis. While “eyebright” is its most popular name, it is also called “euphrasia” or “eyewort.”
The scientific name Euphrasia originates from the Greek word and name “Euphrosyne,” which means “gladness.” Its meaning stems from the joy people feel when eyebright heals their eye(s), and they can see. The term “eyebright” comes from the plant’s healing ability to rejuvenate and protect eyesight.
Euphrasia officinalis is medicinally synonymous with the species Euphrasia rostkoviana and Euphrasia stricta. Many of the Euphrasia spp. contain similar active constituents.
Eyebright is in the Orobanchaceae (i.e. formally Scrophulariaceae or figwort) family and is considered a semi-parasitic alpine plant that feeds off the nutrients from nearby grass roots. It is native to Europe; however, it has become naturalized in North America and North/Western Asia.
Eyebrightflowers are white or purplish with faint yellow veins. Early applications of the herb followed the Doctrine of Signatures which states that plants resemble the body parts they therapeutically affect. Since this plant’s flowers looked similar to eyeballs, they were used to treat eye conditions.
Eyebright is an annual plant that reaches a maximum of 2 – 8 inches tall and blooms from May to September. The aerial parts are used medicinally and have a bitter, astringent taste.
There are roughly 450 Euphrasia species, and they are commonly found in poor, chalky soil on roadsides, dry fields, and waste areas.
Common names of eyebright include: Euphrasia, Eyewort, Adhil (Arabian), Casse-lunette (French), Augentröst (German: “consolation of the eyes”), Euphraise.
Other plants in the Euphrasia species include:
- Euphrasia aequalis
- Euphrasia disjuncta
- Euphrasia frigida
- Euphrasia hudsonia
- Euphrasia micrantha
History & Traditional Use:
Although eyebright’s scientific name is of Greek origin, there is no explicit mention of the herb in ancient texts or accounts. The herb surfaced in 14th-century texts and was described as a “cure for all evils of the eye.” Throughout this century, there are multiple accounts of the herb’s ability to support eye discomfort and conditions.
The use of eyebright slowly gained in popularity, and in the 17th century, it was often mentioned as a flavoring for “eyebright wine.” During Queen Elizabeth’s reign (1558 – 1603), eyebright was administered and enjoyed as ale.
In the 17th century, British botanist Nicholas Culpepper wrote that “eyebright made into a powder…hath powerful effect to help restore the sight decayed through years.” Along with poultices, infusions, and extracts, eyebright was and is also an ingredient in “British herbal tobacco.” This smoke blend supposedly alleviates cold symptoms in the head and upper chest.
Presently, eyebright is used for medicinal purposes and is still included in herbal smoke blends.
Eyebright is a dainty yet powerful herb that grows in rough conditions and is highly revered for its therapeutic affinity toward eyes.
Although most scientific studies are lab-based models (except for a few clinical trials), many modern and traditional accounts demonstrate the herb’s versatile medicinal qualities.
Consult your healthcare provider if you are considering an eyebright dietary supplement for medicinal use. It is important to source eyebright ethically and sustainably, given its “at-risk” status, and those with diabetes should take eyebright with caution.
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