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