Overall At-Risk Score: 40
Euphrasia spp. is a genus of roughly 450 species of annual herbs
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)
Rare in most of the continental US. Found in Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions of Canada, Europe, and Asia.
Commonly found in alpine meadows and marshes, alongside a variety of grasses and forbs that many Euphrasia species require for parasitism
Being an annual, this plant must reproduce from seed each growing season. It’s establishment each year also depends heavily on the perennial regeneration of its host plants.
Ability to withstand disturbance and over harvest:
Status of Endangered/Threatened(by state/country):
No listings in the US describe any Euphrasia species as threatened or of concern. Though the IUCN has done assessments on only 4 species of Euphrasia: listing E. mendoncae as extinct⁵ and E. marchesettii⁶ as vulnerable, due to the extensive fragmentation of populations and habitat. The other two species: E. hudsoniana⁷; native to Canada, Michigan, and Minnesota, and E. genargentea⁸; a French native, are both listed as species of least concern.
Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:
The leaves, stems, and flowers are all used to make teas or compresses. Taken orally, this herbal medicine is used to treat allergy symptoms and general upper respiratory problems.
Sometimes used as an eye wash, the teas are used to treat pink-eye, conjunctivitis, and eye inflammation².
Vulnerability of habitat/changes of habitat quality and availability:
In cultivation experiments Euphrasia showed a high sensitivity to proper soil composition and moisture, as well as temperature and light changes³. Though the plant is only a facultative parasite, species composition changes could impact the long term health of a Euphrasia population.
Demand and Relative Acreage Needed to Meet Demand:
Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:
Little data exists on the ecological impact this plant has on animals in its native ranges. Although, due to the rarity of the subarctic wetlands most Euphrasia rely on, increased human traffic in these ecosystems, for foraging, can have widespread negative impacts on many rare and threatened species of plants endemic to this habitat.
Recommendations for industrial and home use:
I’m unaware of any commercial farms that are cultivating Eyebright for market sale, but several studies on common Euphrasia species have shown promising results for the future of farming this herb⁴. Sewing seeds amongst White Clover (Trifolium repens) and Buck’s-Horn Plantain (Plantago coronopus) showed the most obvious benefit from the parasitic relationship⁴. Though mature growth and establishment of Euphrasia sp. is greatly improved by the presence of a host plant, parasitism is not entirely necessary for plant establishment³. More information in P. F. YEO’s work done at the Cambridge Botanic Gardens.
- MDRupaMokkapatti An experimental double-blind study to evaluate the use of Euphrasia in preventing conjunctivitis
- P. F. YEO The Growth of Euphrasia in Cultivation
- D. A. WILKINS Plasticity and Establishment in Euphrasia
- IUCN E. mendoncae
- IUCN E. marchesettii
- IUCN E. hudsoniana
- IUCN E. genargentea
Thinking back to my herb walk years ago in the Italian Alps, I reflect on he fact that people had collected wild plants in those ancient collecting grounds for centuries, doing so in a conscientious way that ensured the plants’ continued abundance. Through careful pruning of the aerial parts of existing plants, the replanting of remaining rootlets and crowns, and the scattering of seeds, the herbs that provided livelihood and medicine for centuries continued to thrive. With the popularity and ever increasing demand for eyebright, however, there is now concern that continued harvesting could lead to the plants’ eventual depletion. It is of utmost importance that any collecting of wild medicinal plants be done with reverence for the plants and in a knowledgeable, respectful, and sustainable manner. Only this way can we ensure that the plants and the medicinal gifts we receive from them will continue to be there for generations and centuries to come.
Propagation and cultivation
Although eyebright self-propagates by seeds and grows in a variety of climatic conditions, it is by nature a “wild plant,” difficult to cultivate in the garden. In fact, I know of no one who has succeeded at doing so. The reason is thought to be that eyebright is a semiparasitic plant, needing to grow among certain grasses from which it gets its nourishment. Viewed from above the ground, eyebright does not have the appearance of a parasitic plant in that it has normal flowers and bright green leaves; parasitic plants are usually devoid of the green color of chlorophyll. Below ground, however, the suckers from eyebright’s roots entangle themselves among the roots of the surrounding grasses, forming tiny nodules which come into contact with and absorb nutrients from the grass rootlets. The grasses are not seriously affected, because the absorptive cells from eyebright’s nodules do not penetrate deeply into the grass rootlets, and because eyebright—an annual that dies off each winter—does not cause a permanent nutrient drain on the grasses.
Eyebright continues to be collected only from the wild, and is therefore at great risk of being over harvested. Some other plants that share similarly mild astringent properties and that can thus be used in its stead are sage, green tea (especially in the form of compresses), Chinese coptis, red clover, and yarrow. Hopefully someday a green- thumbed person will figure out how to cultivate this lovely healing plant so we can once again, in good conscience, freely avail ourselves of eyebright’s special curative properties.
Use only cultivated resources, if you can find them.
Good substitutes are sage, horseradish, green tea, Chines coptis, red clover, and yarrow. Ambrosia may be used as an astringent and antihistamine for eyes, throat, ears, and sinuses.
~Sara Katz, Planting the Future, 103-104, to read the full article you can purchase book at our store or ebook online
This plant has been adopted by