Whilst the scientific research regarding Eyebright’s effectiveness is scant, a small study published in the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine” in 2000 found that Eyebright showed promise in the treatment of inflammation related eye disorders.
In the study, 65 people with conjunctivitis were treated with eye drops containing Eyebright, which were administered one to five times a day. In follow-up examinations performed 7 and 14 days after the start of treatment, a complete recovery was seen in 53 of the patients. An additional 11 patients showed a "clear improvement" in symptoms such as redness, swelling, and burning.
There are certain phytonutrients present in this herb that can reduce the symptoms of eye discomfort. The aucubin found in Eyebright has an anti-inflammatory action, soothing tired and inflamed eyes, whilst tannins act as astringents to help dry up secretions and relieve inflammation of the mucous membranes. This is especially helpful when dealing with conjunctivitis or blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids).
The flavonoid quercetin, also found in Eyebright, can benefit symptoms of hayfever (especially runny eyes). This phytonutrient is thought to reduce allergic responsiveness by inhibiting the release of histamines.
Eyebright is also effective against styes (inflammation of one or more of the sebaceous glands in the eyelid). It contains caffeic acid whose antiseptic action will work to combat the infection.
It is thought that the antioxidant properties of this herb can help the eye absorb more vitamin A and vitamin C, and it contains the minerals; zinc, copper and selenium which all help to protect against cataracts.
Working against allergies, colds, sinusitis and general respiratory discomfort, Eyebright contains naturally astringent tannins that can help to reduce catarrh and mucus discharge. It is thought that these tannins work by tightening the mucous membranes, whilst the flavonoids found in this herb can provide relief from seasonal allergies, coughs, colds and chest congestion.
Folklore and history
Revered for its restorative effects on eyesight, Eyebright has a long and enduring history of traditional use.
The 17th century herbalist Culpeper extolled its virtues in "Culpeper's Complete Herbal", claiming Eyebright to come under the sign of the lion, thus Sol proclaims dominion over it. He recommended: "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."
In ancient folklore you would carry Eyebright flowers if you wanted to enhance your psychic powers or to know if someone was telling the truth. Folk names attached to these wild flowers are, "Christ's Eyes" and "Christ's Sight".
Native to Europe, Eyebright has small, scallop-edged white flowers with yellow spots and a black centre, somewhat resembling a bloodshot human eye. Historically, Eyebright's use for eye problems was due to the Doctrine of Signatures, a sixteenth-century theory that held that a plant's appearance indicated the conditions it could treat.
Eyebright has been traditionally used to treat all manner of eye maladies including; inflammation, conjunctivitis, red-eye, styes, itchy eyes, stinging eyes and weak vision.
In the Middle Ages dried Eyebright was often combined with tobacco and smoked to provide relief for bronchial colds. During the Elizabethan era it was used to make Eyebright Ale which was used to clear eyesight (as long as one didn't drink too much!).
A typical dosage of Eyebright Powder is one to two grams of powder up to three times per day.
To make Eyebright Tea, use 1-2 teaspoons per cup of boiling water and steep for 3-10 minutes depending on taste. Then strain and serve.
Eyebright Tincture is traditionally taken: 2-3ml, 2-3 times per day, or as directed by a Herbal Practitioner.
Eyebright contains; tannins, resins, volatile oil, mannite, iridoid glycosides, the favonoids rutin and quercetin, saponins, essential fatty acids, sterols, iron, silicon, traces of iodine, copper, and zinc; vitamins A, C, D, E and B complex.
Eyebright is considered safe. No studies have been conducted to assess the safety of this herb during pregnancy and lactation and it is therefore not recommended during this time.