A voice for
herbal medicine

We share traditional, scientific and practical insights written by experienced herbalists and health experts from the world of herbal medicine and natural health

Eyebright is a wonderful herb for allergies, excess mucous and eye problems. It is particularly helpful for allergy season


Euphrasia officinalis Orobanchaceae

A delicate plant that grows in meadows, used by herbalists to treat mild allergies, sinusitis, eye conditions and as a supportive tonic for the mucous membranes.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

At risk from overharvesting and habitat loss. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Potential replacement(s): Chrysanthemum, Chamomile,

Key benefits
  • Anti-catarrhal
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-histamine
  • Mucous membrane tonic
  • How does it feel?

    Mildly bitter, cooling, astringent with fresh subtle floral / aromatic tones and after a hint of almond. Energetically eyebright is cooling and astringent, working to tone the mucous membranes.

  • What can I use it for?

    Eyebright is a great medicine for any herbal first aid kit, it can be used for all the ages to treat mild allergy symptoms such as eye inflammation, watery eyes, itchy nose and sneezing.

    Both an antihistamine, astringent and anti-inflammatory, eyebright is used as an internal medicine (tea, tincture, capsule) and is excellent for treatment of catarrh, hay fever, chronic sneezing and inflammation in the nasal mucosa.

    It is used for reducing inflammation and toning the mucous membranes, Eyebright is a highly effective medicine for use in conjunctivitis and for other acute inflammations of the eye, and can be used as eye drops or as an eye bath.

    It is also useful for chronic sinusitis, nasopharangeal catarrh, serous otitis media, pharyngitis, conjunctivitis, blepharitis, catarrhal deafness and sinus headache.

  • Into the heart of eyebright

    Eyebright is a beautiful floral medicine with a long history of use for eye conditions. It is considered most specific to the eyes and was highly regarded by Herbalists of the sixteenth century.

    Eyebright is used in all manner of eye conditions, as previously mentioned. It acts specifically on the mucous lining of the eyes and upper respiratory tract. Therefore it offers fast symptom relief for excess secretions relating to hay fever and air borne allergies.

    Grieve (1984) mentions eyebright is not only to treat disease of the eye, but also as a tonic to this delicate sensory system, stating that there is some tradition to use as an occasional eye bath purely for its ability to tone the tissues, possibly helping to aid in dimness of sight.

    Eyebright has a cooling effect, and in terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is considered sour- cooling and in action it offers a level of reduction in liver heat, this could also be backed by the presence of bitter constituents as bitter constituents directly increase liver function.

  • Traditional uses

    Eyebright has a long-standing use in herbal medicine and early records from the 14th century suggest it was used to ‘cure all evils of the eye’.

    It was used for the treatment of eye conditions such an infections, conjunctivitis and blepharitis.

    It has been used for a manner of mucous diseases, where stagnation and excess mucous present as symptoms.

    Its ability to counter catarrh means it is often used for infectious and allergic conditions affecting the eyes, middle ear, sinuses and nasal passages. It seems to be a plant that has an infinity to the sensory organs of the head.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    Respiratory system: Eyebright is used for all manner of conditions relating to the nasal passages, allergic rhinitis, asthma and the common cold especially where excess mucous is a presenting symptom (2,3).

    Both an antihistamine, astringent and anti-inflammatory, eyebright as an internal medicine (tea, tincture, capsule) is excellent for treatment of catarrh, hay fever, chronic sneezing, inflamed nasal mucosa, relaxed tonsils and sore throat, including where these symptoms are caused by allergy.

    Specifically used to protect the eyes and mucosa during the catarrhal phase of measles, to avoid future problems (1,2).

    Immune system: Eyebright is used for treating both infectious & allergic conditions affecting eyes, middle ear, sinuses & nasal passages.

    Eyes: Due to  its astringency and anti-inflammatory actions, eyebright is an effective treatment for conjunctivitis as an eye bath. It is also traditionally used in blepharitis, red eye, stye, for poor visual acuity due to eyestrain or diabetes and corneal opacity (1,3,5,6).

    Skin: By alleviating oxidative stress, eyebright can be used topically, particularly to support cellular health following prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light (4).

  • Research

    In an in vitro study an extract of eyebright displayed cellular protection against UVB-induced photoaging by suppressing oxidative stress, cell apoptosis and inflammation. This preliminary study demonstrates the protective effects of E. officinalis against UVB-induced photoaging (4).

    An in-vitro study analysing the activity of extracts of eyebright on cultured human corneal epithelial cells concluded promising effects in its application as treatment for eye disorders (5,6).

    A number of compounds found in high concentration in eyebright, namely aucubin have been subject to extensive research, findings show anti microbial, hepatoprotective, antitumor and neuroprotective activity. Aucubin is found also in Ribwort Plantain (1).

    It must be noted that despite longstanding traditional use, clinical trials on eyebright are limited and more research needs to be conducted. In vitro studies are not always a good reflection of the medical efficacy of a plant as results do not always translate into people. Nonetheless traditional use is a valid form of evidence too.

  • Did you know?

    Eyebright was used by Ancient Greek physician Dioscorides for eye infections when accompanying Roman legions through many countries.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    Eyebright is a semi parasitic annual plant that grows wild in grasslands, meadows, heaths, and pastures of Britain, Northern Europe, Western Asia and North America. Eyebright grows to a height of 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) and has small axillary odourless flowers which are usually white with purple streaks, red spots and a yellowish palate.

    The leaves are opposite, ovate or cordate and strongly ribbed.

    By the doctrine of signatures (a concept that states that botanical features of herbs may indicate their therapeutic applications) the petals of eyebright resemble bloodshot eyes, suggesting the plant’s name and its eye-clearing action. Downy hairs cover the stems, which produce toothed leaves.

  • Common names

    Euphrasia (deriving from the Greek word euphrosyne meaning ‘gladness’. 

    The name eyebright both relates to the eye like appearance of the flower and its historic use in treatment of eye conditions.

  • Safety

    Eyebright is safe to use long term, there are no reported interactions or contraindications (1).

  • Dosage

    Internal use: infuse 2-4g of dried herb in hot water, strain and drink. Up to three times daily.

    Take 2-6ml of 1:5 tincture three times daily.

    External use: Infusion. Using sterile equipment, infuse 1 heaped teaspoon of dried herb in half a cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Strain using a paper coffee filter (or similar, to remove all herb particles), cool, and drop into eyes. For inflammation or infection use bath eye for 10 seconds. Twice daily

  • Constituents

    • Iridoid glycosides: aucubin, catapol, euphroside, ixoroside.
    • Flavonoids: quercetin, apigenin
    • Tannins
    • Lignans
    • Phenolic Acids
  • References

    1. Bone, K. and Mills, S. (2013). Principles and practice of Phytotherapy modern Herbal Medicine. 2nd ed. Edinburgh Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier.
    2. Kenner, D. and Yves Requena (2001). Botanical medicine: a European professional perspective. Brookline, Mass.: Paradigm Publications.
    3. British Herbal Medicine Association. Scientific Committee (2003). A guide to traditional herbal medicines: a sourcebook of accepted traditional uses of medicinal plants within Europe. London: British Herbal Medicine Association.
    4. Liu, Y., Hwang, et al. (2018). Protective Effects of Euphrasia officinalis Extract against Ultraviolet B-Induced Photoaging in Normal Human Dermal Fibroblasts. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Issue 19. Volume 11.‌
    5. Paduch, R. et al. (2014). Assessment of Eyebright (Euphrasia Officinalis L.) Extract Activity in Relation to Human Corneal Cells Using In Vitro Tests. Balkan medical journal. Issue 31. Volume 1.
    6. Bigagli, E. et al. (2017). Pharmacological activities of an eye drop containing Matricaria chamomilla and Euphrasia officinalis extracts in UVB-induced oxidative stress and inflammation of human corneal cells. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology, Volume 173.
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

Sign up to our Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the very latest in herbal insights.

Sign up to our newsletter