Once common in meadows everywhere, eyebright has become rare. This dainty little member of the figwort family lives in a semi-parasitic relationship with grass, which is why farmers and shepherds have accused it of stealing the milk from their cattle. Indeed, where eyebright grows profusely it sucks the nutrients from its grassy neighbours, although it does not damage them permanently, since it is an annual plant. Eyebright received its English name for its flowers, which look like bright, sparkling little eyes. Its Latin name euphrasia derives from the Greek Euphrosyne, which means gladness. Whether it is so named because to see it brings gladness, or the gladness comes from its effects upon the eyesight, who knows, but the old herbalists placed great trust in this little herb and thought it a singularly excellent remedy to restore the eyesight. Despite the Greek name, the ancients, Pliny, Galen or Dioscurides did not mention it in their works.
The ancients warmly recommended eyebright for its restorative powers on the eyesight it prescribed compresses outwardly and tea taken inwardly. They also made a distilled water and a wine which they highly praised. They also claimed it effective for improving failing memory and one source even pronounces it a cure for epilepsy. However, later herbalists have dropped these claims. Today it is chiefly used for its anti-inflammatory and astringent properties, which make it useful in cases of watery and exceedingly runny mucous discharges. It is particularly recommended in cases where the catarrhal infection is affecting the eyes and tear ducts as well as the ears. It is sometimes included in formulations for hayfever since that is often characterised by thin runny mucous and inflamed eyes. It can be taken internally as a tea or used externally as a compress for red, weak, gooey or watery eyes.
In the old days eyebright was associated with thunderstorms and it was said that it would not be a good idea to pick it on a hot summer's day with thunder hanging in the air, since the lightening would strike where the eyebright was stored. However, it was of course considered highly effective as an amulet to restore and protect the sight. Practitioners of magic would use it to strengthen inner sight and vision.