What is Ergot?

Let’s know the meaning of ergot. Ergot is a fungus that grows on rye and, to a lesser extent, other grasses such as wheat.

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Ergot has a fascinating history. A severe reaction to ergot-contaminated food (such as rye bread) known as ergotism, was common during the Middle Ages and was known as St. Anthony's fire. Furthermore, some historians believe that ergot played a role in the 1692 Salem witch hunt. They believe that eating ergot-contaminated food caused some women in Salem to develop strange behaviours and accuse other women of being witches.

Ergot has been used as a medicine despite serious safety concerns. Ergot has many uses, it is used to treat excessive bleeding during menstruation, to expel the placenta after childbirth, and for a variety of other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to keep up these claims.

Where is Ergot Obtained From?

Ergot alkaloids are extracted from the ergot fungus Claviceps purpurea, which grows on rye plants. These fungi are responsible for ergot of rye, a fungal disease that affects plants. The sclerotia of ergot fungi contain alkaloids that are used to make LSD, the full form of LSD is Lysergic acid diethylamide drugs that act on the CNS (Central nervous system).

They are natural hallucinogens that alter mood, behaviour, and thoughts in the same way that psychosis does, a condition in which thoughts and emotions are altered to the point where contact with reality is lost.

Ergot Alkaloids and Toxicity of Ergot Alkaloids

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Ergot alkaloids can be defined as a large group of compounds produced by fungi during the growing season that attack a wide variety of grass species, including small grains. Chemically, these compounds are classified as clavine alkaloids, lysergic acids, simple lysergic acid amides, and peptide alkaloids. Ergotamine and ergovaline are two common alkaloids found in ergot.

Toxicity - Ergotism is one of the oldest known mycotoxicoses, with historical evidence of its occurrence. The human epidemics caused by ergot in the Middle Ages known as St. Anthony's fire, with symptoms of gangrene, central nervous and gastrointestinal effects, were one of the most widely publicised events. Animals are affected in the same way that humans have been.

Ergot alkaloids have been linked to agalactia in pigs. Ergot is known to cause the loss of ears and other appendages in animals. Ergotism is classified into two types: gangrenous and convulsive.

The differences could be due to the different types of alkaloids found in ergot, as there can be variations in the amount and types of alkaloids found in ergot (sclerotia). Recent outbreaks have occurred in Ethiopia (1978), where gangrene and limb loss occurred, and in India (1975), where the effects were more nervous in nature, with giddiness, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting.

Ergot of rye

Ergot of rye is caused by a lower fungus namely Claviceps purpurea that lives as a parasite on rye and, to a lesser extent, other grain species and wild grasses. Infested with this fungus kernels turn into light-brown to violet-brown curved pegs (sclerotia) that protrude from the husk in place of normal grains. The variety used medicinally is rye ergot (Secale cornutum).

Ergot Poisoning

Ergotism is a type of poisoning caused by eating grains infected with the ascomycete fungus Claviceps purpurea. Individual grains are replaced by the infection with dark, hard ergots, which are mixed in with the healthy grain during harvest and milling.

Life Cycle of Ergot

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The following phases represent the life cycle of ergot fungi in general, let’s go through the phases :

  • Phase 1 - Ascospores are carried to the host by the wind (this mainly takes place in spring)

  • Phase 2 - The spores attach to the host's pistil surface.

  • Phase 3 - As they germinate, the hyphae grow into the ovary organ - It is important to note that the hyphae only invades the plant's ovary and does not spread to other parts of the plant. The reason for this is unknown at this time.

  • Phase 4 - The fungi's conidia phase, the sphacelial stroma, continues to grow and develop in the organ (ovary)

  • Phase 5 - More spores are produced in the ovary, resulting in what appears to be a thick fluid that can then spread to other plants via a variety of dispersal methods (rain, insects etc)

Ergot Fungus

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Ergot, also known as ergot fungi, is a fungus genus of the genus Claviceps. Claviceps purpurea is the most well-known member of this group. This fungus grows on rye as well as related plants and produces alkaloids that can cause ergotism in humans and other mammals who eat grains contaminated with its fruiting structure.

Ergot Disease

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Ergot is known to be a fungal disease caused by fungi in the Claviceps genus. This genus' species are unique in that they only infect the host plant's ovaries; no other parts of the plant are infected. Claviceps is made up of about 40 different species, with C. purpurea and Tulasnella being the most dangerous.

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FAQs on Ergot

Question 1. What is an Ergot Biological Source?

Answer: Ergot alkaloids are ergotine derivatives, the most active of which are amides of lysergic acid. The parasitic fungus Claviceps purpurea, which grows on rye and other grains, produces ergot alkaloids. This fungus grows on rye and related plants and produces alkaloids that can cause ergotism in humans and other mammals who eat grains contaminated with its fruiting structure(called ergot sclerotium).

Question 2. Where Can We Find Ergot Seeds?

Answer: These are the places where we can find the ergot seeds- 

  • Herbalist at the roadside shrine in White Orchard.

  • Tomira in White Orchard.

  • The Pellar near Blackbough.

  • Keira Metz near Midcopse.

  • Herbalist in the Refugees' Camp.

  • Herbalist located at the Abandoned Site west of Hangman's Alley.

  • Otto Bamber in Novigrad.

  • Gremist in Gedyneith.

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