One of the biggest problems with many herb books is that they simply list a bunch of diseases that herb has been used for without telling you important information such as 1) what part is used, 2) how it is prepared and 3) how it is administered. All of these things make a difference in how the herb works.
Eyebright is a perfect example of a plant that has fallen victim, not so much to misinformation, but rather to a lack of important data about how it is most effectively used. Most people who are familiar with herbs, will immediately connect eyebright as an eye remedy, and they would be partially correct.
The use of eyebright for the eyes is based on a concept called the doctrine of signatures. Because Europeans saw a similarity between the colors and shape of the flower and bloodshot eyes, the plant began to be used as an eyewash for diseases of the eye. The key here is that the plant is very effective for eye problems when used as an eyewash.
An eyewash made from eyebright has been effectively used in treating problems like blood shot eyes, pink eye, conjunctivitis and other inflammatory conditions affecting the eyes.
Eyebright helps these conditions because it is an astringent, so it tones the eye tissues, reducing inflammation. It also has a disinfectant action. It contains a volatile oil that becomes activated by sunlight once it is applied to the eye.
Eyebright has most often been used for this purpose as part of a formula. For instance, the EW formula (which contains eyebright, bayberry, goldenseal and red raspberry) was designed by John Christopher as a topical eyewash to be used for the conditions listed above. Dr. Christopher’s original formula also contained capsicum. He claimed that regular use would actually improve eyesight and remove cataracts, although I haven’t known very many people who have successfully used it in this manner.
This use of eyebright as a topical application for the eyes, lead people to begin to use in internally, believing it will do the same thing. The same thing happened with EW. My experience is that both EW and eyebright are not very effective for eye problems (especially eyesight problems and cataracts) when taken internally.
However, both have some very useful properties when taken internally, which are not directly related to the eye. Eyebright is an upper respiratory formula, which helps coughs, sore throats, allergies, post nasal drip, sinus infections, sinusitis, earaches and the itchy, red and watery eyes associated with hay fever. In short, eyebright and EW are eyes, ears, nose and throat remedies. EW in particular is a great formula product for that drippy, water runny nose one gets with hay fever or the beginning of a cold, particularly if the eyes are red and puffy. To help these conditions, take 2-4 capsules of EW three to four times per day.
From AHG herbalist David Winston I learned that the tincture of fresh eyebright would open the Eustachian tubes which often swell shut in small children causing earaches. It’s an herbal “tubes in the ears” treatment. Having suffered occasionally from earaches myself, I tried this out, and it really worked. He claims the dried powder is ineffective, but I tried that once in a dose of four capsules every couple of hours and it proved to work, although it was slower acting.
To use eyebright as an eyewash, put the contents of 2-3 capsules in a cup and fill it with boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and strain mixture carefully through a fine cloth. Keep refrigerated and make a fresh batch every 3-4 days. The same directions can be applied to making EW into an eyewash. EW is even more affective than straight eyebright.
You can put it into the eyes with a dropper or use an eyewash cup to rinse the eyes. (It’s a good idea to warm it to room temperature first.) I’ve also saturated a cotton ball with the tea and placed it as a compress over my closed eye. Using EW in this manner, along with vitamin A & D allowed me to relieve a very serious eye infection in about 24-48 hours.