Eyebrights – Euphrasia SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Eye Wash of Wild Plants

Table of Contents

Drug eyebright (euphrasia stricta), the most common eyebright to be seen around Ontario, was brought over by settlers as an herb for making an eye wash. It’s a nonnative edible and medicinal plant with a few rarer native relations in Ontario.

Eyebright (euphrasia SPP.) like the pictured drug eyebright (euphrasia stricta), while surprisingly not in Haliburton Flora, is fairly common here. I’ve seen it in old fields, driveways, and along trails and parking lots. Common eyebright (euphrasia nemorosa) may also be spotted in our area. There are 10 euphrasia SPP. noted on iNat for Ontario.

Drug Eyebright (euphrasia stricta)
Drug Eyebright (Euphrasia Stricta)
Eyebrights – Euphrasia SPP.
Eyebrights – Euphrasia SPP.

Edible Uses of Eyebright

The bitter leaves are edible.

Medicinal Uses of Eyebright

Eyebright is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Anticatarrhal and Astringent. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes astringent aerial parts, which tighten mucous membranes, used to dry up runny, watery discharge from the eyes and respiratory passages. For the eyes, it’s usually applied in a compress or eyewash, perhaps mixed with witch hazel. Be sure to see a professional for eye issues that get worse or last more than a couple days. And note sometimes weepy eyes are actually a sign of dryness, in which case you wouldn’t want to use a drying astringent. Runniness from allergies, allergic conjunctivitis, is a more apt condition for eyebright to support.

An herb more commonly found around here used for such an eye wash is yarrow.

Eyebright is gathered when in flower, and prepared fresh or dried. For anticatarrhal action it may be combined with elder flower, goldenrod or goldenseal.

Alternative Uses of Drug Eyebright

It has been used as an ingredient in herbal smoking mixes.

Growing Euphrasia SPP.

Apparently, it’s hard to cultivate eyebrights, but the nonnative eyebrights are abundant in patches here. They may be one of the herbs you see filling in driveways and trails along with the likes of pineapple-weed, wood sorrel, white clover, etc. As a nonnative it doesn’t provide much value to wildlife.

Around Lake Superior there is a native Euphrasia hudsoniana, Hudson Bay eyebright, an arctic-alpine plant that is a relic from the last glacial ice retreat. There are other obscure native eyebrights.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

The Herb Bible

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