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History---The name Euphrasia is of Greek origin, derived from Euphrosyne (gladness), the name of one of the three graces who was distinguished for her joy and mirth, and it is thought to have been given the plant from the valuable properties attributed to it as an eye medicine preserving eyesight and so bringing gladness into the life of the sufferer. The same Greek word is also given to the linnet, whence another old tradition says that it was the linnet who first made use of the leaf for clearing the sight of its young and who then passed on the knowledge to mankind, who named the plant in its honour.
Although always known under a name of Greek origin, the herb seems to have been unnoticed by the ancients and no mention of it is made by Dioscorides, Pliny, Galen or even by the Arabian physicians. In the fourteenth century, however, it was supposed to cure 'all evils of the eye' and is described as the source of 'a precious water to clear a man's sight.' Matthaeus Sylvaticus, a physician of Mantua, who lived about the year 1329, recommended this plant in disorders of the eyes and Arnoldus Villanovanus, who died in 1313, was the author of a treatise on its virtues, Vini Euphrasiati tantopere celebrati. How long before Euphrasia was in repute for eye diseases it is impossible to say, but in Gordon's Liticium Medicina, 1305, among the medicines for the eyes, Euphragia is named 'and is recommended both outwardly in a compound distilled water and inwardly as a syrup.' Euphragia is not, however, mentioned in the Schola Salernitana, compiled about 1100.
Markham (Countrie Farm, 1616) says: 'Drinke everie morning a small draught of Eyebright wine.' In the eighteenth century Eyebright tea was used, and in Queen Elizabeth's time there was a kind of ale called 'Eyebright Ale.'
Eyebright, says Salmon (Syn. Med., 1671), strengthens the head, eyes and memory and clears the sight.
Euphrasia was regarded as a specific in diseases of the eyes by the great herbalists of the sixteenth century, Tragus, Fuchsius, Dodoens, etc., and has been a popular remedy in most countries.
The French call it Casse-lunette, the Germans Augentröst (consolation of the eyes).
It was the Euphrasy of Spenser, Milton and other poets. Milton relates how the Archangel Michael ministered to Adam after the Fall:
' . . . to nobler sights
Michael from Adam's eyes the film removed,
Then purged with euphrasine and rue
His visual orbs, for he had much to see.'
It is probable that the belief in its value as an eye medicine originated in the old Doctrine of Signatures, for as an old writer points out-
'the purple and yellow spots and stripeswhich are upon the flowers of the Eyebright doth very much resemble the diseases of the eye, as bloodshot, etc., by which signature it hath been found out that this herb is effectual for the curing of the same.'