The mystery of ergotism revealed

How to be on fire from eating organic muesli ? 😄

What is ergot?

Ergot is a group of fungi (mainly Claviceps purpurea) that parasitize cereals, especially rye.

Cool, damp weather favors its appearance on the ears of grain.

The ingestion of ergot fungi is responsible for a disease called ergotism, ergotoxicosis, or Saint Anthony’s fire.

It was not until 1676 that the link with bread poisoning was discovered.

Ergot poisoning often leads to death.


What is ergotism?

St Anthony’s fire caused havoc in the Middle Ages, with tens of thousands of deaths.

The disease, which is not contagious, affects humans and animals.

It exists in 2 forms:

  • Convulsive: severe pain, convulsions, hallucinations, headaches, nausea, vomiting.
  • Gangrenous: burns, gangrene of the limbs.

For centuries, this misunderstood fire was often attributed to demonic possession. For this reason, many were murdered.

Monks of the Order of St. Anthony worked to alleviate the suffering in their hospices.

In 1518, 500 intoxicated inhabitants of Strasbourg began dancing in the street day and night, unable to stop until they died.

Ergot contains alkaloids, in particular ergotamine, which can cause spasms and hallucinations.


Therapeutic use of ergot

During the 20th century, research was carried out to isolate the active principles of the mushroom.

Nowadays, certain molecules are used in the manufacture of medicines, particularly in the case of :

  • Headaches.
  • Colds.
  • Childbirth difficulties.

Some therapeutic uses remain to be discovered, in particular for the treatment of

  • Type 1 diabetes.
  • Cancer.

How to combat rye ergot?

With the return to organic farming and old-fashioned seeds, rye ergot could reappear.

Fortunately, medical management is much more effective nowadays.

Accidental poisoning of livestock is still common.

Several precautions can be taken to avoid ergot in cereal crops:

  • Avoid growing rye in wet areas.
  • Spray cereals with a nettle slurry before the ears are formed.
  • Sort the grain from the harvest.
Soleil nuages


What is ergotism?

It is a disease caused by poisonous fungi that infect grasses.

Ergot poisoning explains many cases of witchcraft and possession in the Middle Ages.

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