Found in abundance in summer time on our heaths, and on mountains

near the sea, this delicate little plant, the Euphrasia

officinalis, has been famous from earliest times for restoring and

preserving the eyesight. The Greeks named the herb originally

from the linnet, which first made use of the leaf for clearing its

vision, and which passed on the knowledge to mankind. The

Greek word, euphrosunee, signifies joy and gla
ness. The elegant

little herb grows from two to six inches high, with deeply-cut

leaves, and numerous white or [176] purplish tiny flowers

variegated with yellow; being partially a parasite, and preying on

the roots of other plants. It belongs to the order of scrofula-curing

plants; and, as proved by positive experiment (H.), the Eyebright

has been recently found to possess a distinct sphere of curative

operation, within which it manifests virtues which are as

unvarying as they are truly potential. It acts specifically on the

mucous lining of the eyes and nose, and the uppermost throat to

the top of the windpipe, causing, when given so largely as to be

injurious, a profuse secretion from these parts; and, if given of

reduced strength, it cures the same troublesome symptoms when

due to catarrh.

An attack of cold in the head, with copious running from the eyes

and nose, may be aborted straightway by giving a dose of the

infusion (made with an ounce of the herb to a pint of boiling

water) every two hours; as, likewise, for hay fever. A medicinal

tincture (H.) is prepared from the whole plant with spirit of wine,

of which an admirably useful lotion may be made together with

rose water for simple inflammation of the eyes, with a bloodshot

condition of their outer coats. Thirty drops of the tincture should

be mixed with a wineglassful of rosewater for making this lotion,

which may be used several times in the day.

What precise chemical constituents occur in the Eyebright beyond

tannin, mannite, and glucose, are not yet recorded. In Iceland its

expressed juice is put into requisition for most ailments of the

eyes. Likewise, in Scotland, the Highlanders infuse the herb in

milk, and employ this for bathing weak, or inflamed eyes. In

France, the plant is named Casse lunettes; and in Germany,

Augen trost, or, consolation of the eye.

[177] Surely the same little herb must have been growing freely in

the hedge made famous by ancient nursery tradition:--

Thessalus acer erat sapiens proe civibus unus

Qui medium insiluit spinets per horrida sepem.

Effoditque oculos sibi crudelissimus ambos.

Cum vero effosos orbes sine lumine vidit

Viribus enisum totis illum altera sepes

Accipit, et raptos oculos cito reddit egenti.

There was a man of Thessuly, and he was wondrous wise;

He jumped into a quick set hedge, and scratched out both his eyes;

Then, when he found his eyes were out, with all his might and main

He jumped into the quick set hedge, and scratched them in again.

Old herbals pronounced it cephalic, ophthalmic, and good for a

weak memory. Hildamus relates that it restored the sight of many

persons at the age of seventy or eighty years. Eyebright made into

a powder, and then into an electuary with sugar, hath, says

Culpeper, powerful effect to help and to restore the sight decayed

through years; and if the herb were but as much used as it is

neglected, it would have spoilt the trade of the maker.

On the whole it is probable that the Eyebright will succeed best for

eyes weakened by long-continued straining, and for those which

are dim and watery from old age. Shenstone declared, Famed

Euphrasy may not be left unsung, which grants dim eyes to

wander leagues around; and Milton has told us in Paradise

Lost, Book XI:--

To nobler sights

Michael from Adam's eyes the film removed,

Then purged with Euphrasy and rue

The visual nerve, for he had much to see.

[178] The Arabians I mew the herb Eyebright under the name

Adhil, It now makes an ingredient in British herbal tobacco,

which is smoked most usefully for chronic bronchial colds.

Some sceptics do not hesitate to say that the Eyebright owes its

reputation solely to the fact that the tiny flower bears in its centre

a yellow spot, which is darker towards the middle, and gives a close

resemblance to the human eye; wherefore, on the doctrine of

signatures, it was pronounced curative of ocular derangements. The

present Poet Laureate speaks of the herb as:--

The Eyebright this.

Whereof when steeped in wine I now must eat

Because it strengthens mindfulness.

Grandmother Cooper, a gipsy of note for skill in healing, practised

the cure of inflamed and scrofulous eyes, by anointing them with

clay, rubbed up with her spittle, which proved highly successful.

Outside was applied a piece of rag kept wet with water in which a

cabbage had been boiled. As confirmatory of this cure, we read

reverently in the Gospel of St. John about the man which was

blind from his birth, and for whose restoration to sight our Saviour

spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and anointed the

eyes of the blind man with the clay. More than one eminent oculist

has similarly advised that weak, ailing eyes should be daily wetted

on waking with the fasting saliva. And it is well known that

mothers' marks of a superficial character, but even of a

considerable size, become dissipated by a daily licking with the

mother's tongue. Old Mizaldus taught that the fasting spittle of a

whole and sound person both quite taketh away all scurviness, or

redness of the face, ringworms, tetters, and all kinds [179] of

pustules, by smearing or rubbing the infected place therewith; and

likewise it clean puts away thereby all painful swelling by the

means of any venomous thing as hornets, spiders, toads, and such

like. Healthy saliva is slightly alkaline, and contains sulphocyanate

of potassium.