From Academic Kids

Ergot refers to either the Claviceps purpurea fungus, an infection of grain with the fungus, or the disease in humans and animals that eat the fungus.

Claviceps purpurea can affect a number of cereals and grasses, including rye (its most common host), triticale, wheat and barley. It affects oats only rarely. Its growth in the grain is promoted by storing the grain in a damp state.


Life cycle of the fungus

An ergot kernel occurs when a normal grain kernel is infected by the Claviceps purpurea fungus. The fungus grows inside the kernel's husk. When the infected kernel drops to the ground, the fungus remains dormant until proper conditions trigger its fruiting phase, upon which a tiny mushroom is formed. The mushroom releases spores which propogate the fungi to other kernels. Ergot infection causes a reduction in the yield and quality of grain and hay produced, and if infected grain or hay is fed to livestock it causes a disease called ergotism.

Effects on humans and animals

Ergot contains alkaloids of the ergoline group, which have a wide range of activities including effects on circulation and neurotransmission. Ergotism is the name for the bunch of symptoms a human or animal has when it has ingested (too much of ) this fungus. Symptoms include nausea, crazyness, siezures, unconsciousness, death. Entire villages have been known to suffer ergotism after the village bakery used infected grain.

Historically, controlled doses of ergot were used to induce abortions and to stop maternal bleeding after childbirth, but simple Ergot extract is no longer used as a pharmaceutical.

Among those who studied ergot and its derivatives was Albert Hofmann, whose experiments led to the discovery of LSD, a powerfully hallucinogenic ergot derivative that affects the serotonin system. Contrary to some rumors, ergot contains no LSD, but there are links between the two substances:

  • LSD was first synthesised during research on the active ingredients of ergot.
  • Lysergic acid, a raw material used in the synthesis of LSD, was and still is prepared from ergot.


The disease cycle of the ergot fungus was first described in the 1800s, but the connection with ergot and epidemics among people and animals was known several hundred years before that.

Human poisoning due to the consumption of rye bread made from ergot-infected grain was common in Europe in the Middle Ages.

It has also been posited — though speculatively — that the Salem Witch Trials were initiated by young women who had consumed ergot-tainted rye.

Kykeon, the beverage consumed by participants in the ancient Greek mystery of Eleusinian Mysteries, might have been based on hallucinogens from ergot.

External links

Template:Hallucinogenic lysergamidesde:Mutterkorn es:Cornezuelo fr:Ergot de seigle nl:Moederkoorn pl:Sporysz


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