Eyebright

Scientific Name(s): Euphrasia officinale L. Other species include E. rostkoviana Hayne and E. stricta J.P. Wolff ex J.F. Lehm. Family: Scrophulariaceae

Common Name(s): Eyebright

Uses

Eyebright preparations have been used to treat a variety of complaints, especially inflammatory eye disease.

Dosing

There are no recent clinical studies of eyebright to provide a basis for dosage recommendations. The herb is typically applied topically.

Contraindications

No longer considered safe.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

The range of adverse effects is considered to outweigh the dubious benefits.

Toxicology

Research reveals little or no information regarding toxicology with the use of this product.

Botany

This small annual plant grows to about one foot. It has oval leaves but can have a variable appearance. Its flowers are arranged in a spike; the white petals often have a red tinge, but may be purple-veined or have a yellow spot on the lower petal. It blooms from July to September. The flowers have the appearance of bloodshot eyes. It is believed to have originated from European wild plants.

History

Eyebright was used as early as Theophrastus and Dioscorides, who prescribed infusions for topical application in the treatment of eye infections. This was in large part due to the similarity of the “bloodshot” petals to irritated eyes. The plant has been used in homeopathy to treat conjunctivitis and other ocular inflammations. The plant continues to find use in African-American herbal medicine. 1

Further historic data on the use of Euphrasia includes a 14th century cure for “all evils of the eye.” An eyebright ale was described in Queen Elizabeth's era. It was a component of British Herbal Tobacco, which was smoked for chronic bronchial conditions and colds. Other early uses include treatments for allergies, cancers, coughs, conjunctivitis, earaches, epilepsy, headaches, hoarseness, inflammation, jaundice, ophthalmia, rhinitis, skin ailments and sore throats.

Chemistry

Eyebright contains the glycoside aucuboside. In addition, the plant contains a tannin, aucubin, caffeic and ferulic acids, sterols, choline, some basic compounds and a volatile oil. 2

Other components include vitamin C, β-carotene, nonacosame, ceryl alcohol, beta-sitosterol, oleic-, and linoleic-, palmitic- and stearic- acids, fumaric acid, isoquercitrin, quercetin and rutin. 3 Additionally, the iridoid glycosides catalpol, euphroside and ixoroside, the lignan dehydrodiconiferlyl alcohol 4-β-D-glucoside, the phenyl-propane glycoside eukovoside, the flavonoid apigenin, gallotannins, traces of tertiary alkaloids, steam-volatile substances and a range of free and combined phenol-carboxylic acids, principally caffeic, p-hydroxy-phenylpyruvic and vanillic acids.

Tannins, aucuboside (aucubin), 4 seven known iridoid glycosides and the new compound, eurostoside 5 as well as seven flavonoids 6 have all been isolated from E. rostkoviana .

Uses and Pharmacology

None of the chemical components of eyebright have been associated with a significant therapeutic effect. There are no controlled studies in man to evaluate its effectiveness in the treatment of ocular irritations.

Eyebright is commonly used in European folk medicine for blepharitis and conjunctivitis, as well as for a poultice for styes and the general management of eye fatigue. It is also used internally for coughs and hoarseness, as well as a homeopathic remedy for conjunctivitis. 7 The phenol-carboxylic acids are thought to play a role in the antibacterial effects of eyebright.

Animal/Clinical data

Research reveals no animal or clinical data regarding the use of eyebright.

Dosage

There are no recent clinical studies of eyebright to provide a basis for dosage recommendations. The herb is typically applied topically.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

While there are no known risks associated with eyebright, its purported activities have not been clinically substantiated and the folkloric use is unacceptable on hygienic grounds.

German studies suggest that 10 to 60 drops of eyebright tincture could induce confusion, cephalalgia, violent pressure in the eyes with tearing, itching, redness and swelling of the margins of the lids, photophobia, dim vision, weakness, sneezing, coryza, nausea, toothache, constipation, hoarseness, cough, expectoration, dyspnea, yawning, insomnia, polyuria and diaphoresis. 3 Hence, ophthalmic use of this material is strongly discouraged.

Toxicology

Research reveals little or no information regarding toxicology with the use of this product.

Bibliography

1. Boyd EL, et al. Home Remedies and the Black Elderly . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1984.
2. Harkiss KJ, Timmins P. Studies in the Scrophulariaceae. 8. Phytochemical investigation of Euphrasis officinalis. Planta Med . 1973;23(4):342.
3. Duke JA. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs . Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985.
4. Sodzawiczny K, et al. Content of Tannins and Aucuboside in Herba euphrasiae from Southern Poland. Herba Polonica . 1984;30(3–4):165.
5. Salama O, Sticher O. Iridoid Glucosides from Euphrasia rostkoviana . Part 4. Glycosides from Euphrasia species. Planta Med . 1983;47:90.
6. Matlawska I, et al. Flavonoid Compound in Herba euphrasiae . Herba Polonica . 1988;34(3):97.
7. Bisset NG, ed. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals . Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers, 1994.

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