Euphrasia officinalis L., E. brevipila Burnat & Gremli and E. rostkoviana Hayne [Fam. Scrophulariaceae]
Dried herb, liquid extract and tincture of the aerial parts of eyebright.
– Colds and Flu, Bronchitis, Sore Throat
– Digestive Disorders
– Eye Infections
– Fungal Infection
– Nasal Catarrh
– Skin Inflammation
– Yeast Infections
Eyebright, Euphrasia officinalis L., E. brevipila Burnat & Gremli or E. rostkoviana Hayne [Fam. Scrophulariaceae], is a small annual plant native to eastern Europe that can now also be found wild in meadows, pastures, and fields of North America as a weedy Eurasian introduction. It was popular in the 14th century as a cure-all for the eyes. Although a stimulating astringent and tonic that has an effect on the mucous membranes, eyebright is primarily used as an eye bath to treat problems such as conjunctivitis, sties, strains, nervous and muscular vision disorders, and catarrh. Eyebright can be infused, added to lotions, and used as a poultice. In folk medicine eyebright was a remedy for eye infection and irritation, abnormal growths, coughs, hoarseness, jaundice, earaches, allergies, skin conditions, and gastrointestinal difficulties. All of these claims for eyebright, except for eye infection treatment, remain unfounded, although the phenol-carboxylic acids may explain the antibacterial properties of eyebright. Eye drops made from Euphrasia rostkoviana Hayne have been used in medicine for more than 70 years for maintaining healthy fluid structures in the eye, and especially for treating inflammatory and catarrhal conjunctivitis. A recent clinical study concluded that Euphrasia eye drops can effectively and safely treat conjunctival conditions. Another recent study found antimycotic (antifungal) activity for eyebright against the yeast, Candida albicans, from strains isolated from clinical samples obtained in the course of acute vaginitis. Another recent study showed blood glucose normalizing effects of the aqueous extract of the leaf of Euphrasia officinale in normal and chemically-induced diabetic rats. The treatment of chemically-induced diabetic rats with eyebright brought down the raised glucose levels, while the extract was devoid of hypoglycemic effect in normal rats. However, many practitioners do not recommend eyebright for internal use, as not enough testing has been done to ensure its safety.
Recent Positive Clinical Findings:
The aim of a recent human prospective cohort trial (Stoss et al. 2000) was to describe the efficacy and tolerability of Euphrasia eye drops in a community-based setting. The trial was carried out in the clinics of 12 experienced general practitioners and ophthalmologists in Germany and Switzerland. Patients with inflammatory or catarrhal conjunctivitis, treated with Euphrasia single-dose eye drops were included in the trial. One drop of Euphrasia single-dose eye drops 1-5 times a day was prescribed. The prescription was determined solely by medical therapeutic needs. The measures of efficacy were determined by assessing: redness, swelling, secretion, burning of the conjunctiva, and foreign body sensation. Tolerability variables were: conjunctival reddening, burning of the conjunctiva, foreign body sensation, and veiled vision. All symptoms were given for the right or left eye separately, with degree of severity in relation to baseline after approximately 7 days and after approximately 14 days. If, after the first follow-up, all symptoms had disappeared, no second follow-up was done. Sixty-five (65) patients fulfilled the inclusion criteria for the protocol evaluation. A complete recovery was seen in 53 patients (81.5%) and a clear improvement in 11 patients (17.0%). A slight worsening could only be determined in 1 patient in the second week of treatment (1.5%). No serious adverse events were observed during the entire trial. The efficacy and tolerability of the eyebright eye drops were evaluated by the patients and doctors and were deemed as “good” to “very good” in more than 85% of cases. The researchers concluded that Euphrasia single-dose eye drops can effectively and safely be used for various conjunctival conditions by general practitioners and ophthalmologists. A dosage of one drop three times a day seems to be the general prescribed dosage. [Stoss M, Michels C, Peter E, Beutke R, Gorter RW. 2000. Prospective cohort trial of Euphrasia single-dose eye drops in conjunctivitis. J Altern Complement Med. Dec; 6(6): 499-508].
Eyebright contains: Approximately 12% tannins, both condensed and hydrolysable; gallic acid is among the hydrolysis products; ca. 0.2% volatile oil with seven major and numerous minor constituents; iridoid glycosides such as 0.05% aucubin, catalpol, euphroside, ixoroside. Lignans such as dehydrodiconiferylalcohol 4-b-D-glucoside, other phenylpropane glycosides, e.g. eukovoside, flavonoids, including quercetin and apigenin glycosides, traces of tertiary alkaloids, steam-volatile substances, a range of free and combined phenol-carboxylic acids principally caffeic, p-hydroxy-phenylpyruvic, and vanillic acids. Other constituents include: Bitter principles; beta-carotene; phytosterols (beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol); resin; carbohydrates; and vitamin C. [Duke JA. 1985. Eyebright. In Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, Pp. 193].
To make eyebright tea: Pour boiling water over 2-3 grams (1 teaspoon = 1.7 grams) of the finely chopped leaves, steep 5-10 minutes, then strain. As an eye bath use a 2% decoction 3 or 4 times per day. Eyebright is also found in prepared lotions and eyewashes. May be applied to compresses as well.
The safety of eyebright for internal use has not been established. In view of the lack of pharmacological and toxicity data, the use of eyebright during pregnancy and lactation should be avoided.
Sufficient testing has not been done to ensure the safety of eyebright. For this reason, the German Commission E does not recommend its use. Other authoritative sources, however, do sanction its use, including Newall and others (1996) in Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, although they recommend using the plant with caution and avoiding excessive doses due to the fact that very little is known about the toxicity of eyebright. These researchers also recommend using commercial preparations for ophthalmic purposes in order to avoid potential problems. It has been stated that 10 to 60 drops of eyebright tincture could induce toxic symptoms including mental confusion, dim vision, fatigue, nausea, constipation, perspiration, difficulty breathing, sneezing, cough, toothache, photophobia, weakness, restlessness, increased eye pressure, watering, redness, itching and swelling.
Newall CA, Anderson LA, and Phillipson JD. 1996. Eyebright. In Herbal Medicines. A Guide for Health Care Professionals. The Pharmaceutical Press, London, pp. 114-115.
Porchezhian E, Ansari SH, Shreedharan NK. 2000. Antihyperglycemic activity of Euphrasia officinale leaves. Fitoterapia. 2000 Sep; 71(5): 522-6.
Stoss M, Michels C, Peter E, Beutke R, Gorter RW. 2000. Prospective cohort trial of Euphrasia single-dose eye drops in conjunctivitis. J Altern Complement Med. 2000 Dec; 6(6): 499-508.
Trovato A, Monforte MT, Forestieri AM, Pizzimenti F. 2000. In vitro anti-mycotic activity of some medicinal plants containing flavonoids. Boll Chim Farm. 2000 Sep-Oct; 139(5): 225-7.
Wichtl M and NG Bisset (eds). 1994. Euphrasii herba – Eyebright. In Herbal Drugs and Phyto-pharmaceuticals. (English translation by Norman Grainger Bisset). CRC Press, Stuttgart, Pp. 195-196.