Ergot and ergotism
Mower, Richard L. Department of Botany, University of California, Berkeley, California.
Last reviewed:January 2020
- Ergot in medicine
- Alkaloid production
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
Ergot is the seedlike body of fungi (molds) of the genus Claviceps; ergotism is a complex disease of humans and certain domestic animals caused by ingestion of grains and cereals infested with ergot. Ingestion of these long, hard, purplish-black structures called sclerotia (illus.a) may lead to convulsions, abortion, hallucinations, or death. During the Middle Ages, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have died from this disease, often referred to as holy fire, St. Anthony's fire, or St. Vitus's dance. Epidemics in humans, although less prevalent in modern times, last occurred in 1951, and the potential danger is always present, as shown by annual livestock losses due to ergot poisoning. See also: Poison
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