Friday, 11 September 2015

Speaking of eyebright

We do a lot of stopping at the side of the road on our rambles.

Paul (my husband) (and photographer) (and all around good guy) has developed an interesting knack for stopping the car right next to patches of eyebright growing at the roadside. It's quite by accident, yet it just keeps happening.

Very tricky stuff to get a pic of, eyebright.

Considering how small eyebright is, he could hardly do it on purpose if he wanted to. The leaves are about the size of a fairy's fingernail and the flowers a tad smaller than that. But with their distinctive colouring and structure, once you know eyebright you can spot it fairly easily. Depending on the light, it can look purple, reddish or copper coloured. Depending on where you find it, it might be growing in good sized clumps or it might be hiding here and there amongst tall grasses. It's a wiry plant as well, which helps it stand out among the clovers and grasses.

As I mentioned last time, it is considered endangered, although it seems to be quite plentiful in our region. This year, especially, we've been finding it in places we've never seen it before. Which either means it is having a very good year, or it's trying to get our attention.

The latter possibility is not as hokey as it sounds.

Well okay, I guess it is, but bear with me. Once you've been around the field a couple of years you realize the plants do that. The ones we need spring out at us. No, I have no 'studies' to back me up, just ask your local wildcrafter or herbalist. It is, as they say, a thing.

Most of my experience with eyebright is recreational. If you find some in a field, all it takes is to nibble a couple of flowers and a leaf and the effect is almost instant. It really is the wildcrafter's and photographer's friend the way it sharpens the eyesight. It isn't very long lasting - maybe an hour - but it's a real treat. How does it work? I'm sorry, I do not know, I only know that it does. It feels as though it slightly changes the fluid/pressure in the eyes. Colours are brighter and everything looks more defined. That's all I can tell you.

The taste of eyebright nibbled fresh, in case you're wondering, is extremely tannin-y and often fairly bitter, but if you get a flower at the right time of day, it's sweet, sweet nectar. Yum.

Eyebright tea is something I have no experience with, so I won't address it here - will someone with experience chime in, in comments please?

As for eyebright tincture, well .. funny story about that. Once upon a time, when I was even more of a rookie than I am now (my heavens, it's 14 years ago!). I discovered eyebright in the lawn at our cottage. I did what any rookie would do - I made about a quart of tincture. We tried it out, but you know back in those days my eyes were so good that I barely noticed an affect other than a slight 'high' and the bottle was relegated to the back of the cupboard.

Now, with age and using the monitor more than I should my eyes aren't so great. I need reading glasses, Paul has always had glasses and both of us are annoyed (oh so damn annoyed) by floaters. With eyebright practically tripping us up everywhere we go, it's time to revisit this little plant and see what it can do.

By the 'Doctrine of Signatures', the flower's resemblance to a bloodshot eye indicated its use for troubles like conjunctivitis to our clever ancestors - and so a cloth soaked in the tea as a compress has long been the traditional remedy. And it works. It's a useful plant for ailments like colds and drippy sinuses as well, though, as it is quite drying. I tend towards dryness anyway, so when I recently pulled out that 14 yr old tincture (which may indeed be too old ..) to see if it would help a sinus issue I found it was too drying for me. That was okay though, because as part of a blend of more moistening herbs it ended up being quite useful.

As I said in the last post, it is important to take time with our tinctures and assess their action so we can use them more effectively. I'm extremely fortunate because I can make my own and adjust how I make them to suit my own needs. Tinctures draw certain qualities from the plants and water draws others.

My hunch is that I need a more watery formulation.

So only last week when we came across a wonderfully abundant eyebright patch, I picked some and made a decocted tincture. I wouldn't normally do so with the aerial, or above ground portion of a plant, decoctions are usually for the roots and barks. Yet eyebright is so wiry and tough, I thought I'd give it a shot. I cut the plant material up with scissors, put it in a pot, poured boiling water on it, then put it on the burner at the lowest setting possible for about an hour, covered. I let it cool, poured the whole works in a jar, then added an equal amount of vodka.

We've already tried our eyebright decocted tincture, even though only a week has passed, and it's lovely. I will let it sit for a while longer to let the alcohol draw out what it will, but I won't let it sit the usual 6 weeks before straining. Wild crafting is all about learning on the go and experimenting, after all.

We each took  about 1/4 tsp. Although not exactly the same effects as nibbling the fresh plant, we both found our vision better throughout the day yesterday. Even better, the effect was long lasting. 6 hours or so after my second dose, I was washing the dishes and noticed I could see the view out the kitchen window more clearly. More defined. I was pretty excited about that. I didn't experience the overly drying effects of the last tincture I made, either. That's exciting too.

Now here's the thing. I'm not a great believer in magic bullets (although this one is pretty magical..), I want a more whole-istic approach. Along with the eyebright we'll be doing other things to support our eyes. I like to wash my eyes with a salt water and rose water combo, a habit I'd dropped and am picking back up (my eye doctor approved it, by the way). We'll be looking into eye exercises, too. And of course, morning light is becoming an important part of our routine.

But I have to tell you, that little plant made me very happy. So yesterday (part way through writing this post) when we headed out for a ramble, I requested a drive to what I know to be another great eyebright location. Over on quiet Calumet Island, way down a road that almost no one uses, at the curve of the gentle little Dubarrie River, there's a meadow ..

can you spot the wildcrafter?

.. this year it's all wild carrot and clovers and just loaded with eyebright. Here we don't get the easier to spot big clumps, just tiny flashes of purple that pull me down to my knees where I gently snip one little wiry branch at a time. Sure, it's "plentiful" for eyebright, but being so small it would take every plant in that meadow to make enough tea for one person's winter supply.

But by the decocted tincture method, I have another pint of magic brew from this:

The fruits of 20 delightful minutes on my knees.

It looks like I'll have plenty to share. We'll mess around with it first, and I'll keep ya'll up to date on how it goes. If it goes well, I'll put this up on the list.

What a nice little weed.


  1. Love it (I mean the pictures and article)! I have post nasal drip that brings coughing every morning and am trying to find different alternatives to getting rid of it. I started a violet tincture the other day. Not necessarily for the post nasal drip but experimenting.

    1. Me too (the tincture) and I'm doing an oil as well. Just a small jar. Fun, eh?

  2. My husband had a terrible cold last month that has lingered and dragged on as a bronchial cough, not wet enough to be productive of anything, but the seemingly ever-present fluid, especially at night, kept starting these paroxysms of coughing that kept him awake and were really starting to wear on him. I eventually chased down this post on eyebright and found that my sister had some, purchased from a commercial source, so I thought I'd give it a try. Worked like magic: one cup of tea, fairly weak, given what you said, was enough to stop him coughing the entire night. Since then I've given him a cup each night, and the cough has pretty much gone. (You could count me a grateful follower, in case you ever come back to this blog.) Just curious, how is the tincture working for your eyes?

    1. Hi Megaera and welcome.

      I am so pleased to hear eyebright tea worked on that kind of cough! And now that he can get some real rest, healing will speed right up. Excellent, well done.

      As for our eyes, well, once it helped clear up our sight some we just sort of forgot to take it anymore - that's how it is with herbs and these fairly minor but annoying issues, I find, you get better without really noticing and just naturally taper off. In the past year I've used it again when I have irritated eyes/sinuses from particularly dusty drives on gravel roads. But the biggest thing I've done for my sight is, as mentioned, making sure I get morning sun on them as often as I can. It seems as important as restful sleep for me, my guess is that it sets the circadian rhythm for the day and keeps all systems humming properly.

      Thank you so much for stopping by. Yes, I get notification whenever there is a comment so feel free to chime in on any of the old posts here.