Category: Illness or disabilities
Introduction and description
The Ergot or ergot fungi, refers to a group of fungi of the genus Claviceps that grows on rye and related plants. It contains alkaloids that cause ergotism in humans and other mammals who consume grains contaminated with its fruiting structure. Claviceps includes about 50 known species, mostly in the tropical regions.
- C. purpurea - is parasitic on grasses and cereals; for example rye (its most common host), as well as triticale, wheat and barley. It affects oats only rarely
- C. fusiformis - is found on pearl millet and buffel grass
- C. paspali is found on dallis grass
- C. africana is found on sorghum
The ergot fungus replaces the kernels of the fruit with small black masses of mycelium. It produces ergotamine, a potent vasoconstrictor – the ergot alkaloids affect the vascular system constricting blood vessels. In the Middle Ages, controlled doses of ergot were used to induce abortions and to stop maternal bleeding after childbirth. The illness it produces is more commonly known as St Anthony's Fire.
Ergot poisoning or ‘ergotism’ (St Anthony's Fire) causes hallucinations, gangrenous loss of limbs, convulsions, ‘irrational behaviour’ and death. Other symptoms include strong uterine contractions, nausea, seizures, and unconsciousness. Outbreaks plagued medieval Europe and were associated with witchcraft and the Inquisition. The Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony (monks) specialized in treating ergotism victims and the common name for ergotism - "St. Anthony's Fire" – is derived from the monks who cared for victims.
Ergot extract is used in pharmaceutical preparations, including Ergot alkaloids in products such as Cafergot (containing caffeine and ergotamine or ergoline to treat migraine headaches, and ergometrine, used to induce uterine contractions and to control bleeding after childbirth.
The observations below should give some food for thought.
Matthias Grünewald’s famous painting depicting St Anthony’s agony
How it works
- Cafergot 023547
- Childbirth, hallucinations and ergotism 006804
- Cohen, Dr Sidney - On ergotism 015524
- Cohen, Dr Sidney - The deranged Morning glory man 015587
- Ergotism and pharmaceuticals 006805
- Migraines and ergotism 006802
- The Ergot Epidemic 006801
- The jerks 006803