This cosmopolitan genus has 35 species of fungi, parasitic on grasses and rushes. Outbreaks of poisoning by C. purpurea (ergot) have long been recorded. Rye flour contaminated with the fungus causes hallucinations, convulsions, and a burning sensation in the limbs, followed by gangrene as the blood supply is restricted. The syndrome, now known as "ergotism", was once beleived to be a punishment for sin, when it was called "St. Anthony's fire" or "holy fire". Claviceps purpurea has been used to strengthen contractions in childbirth since the 16th century. Rarely used in its crude state today, it is split into component alkaloids, such as ergometrine (a uterine stimulant) and ergotamine (a vasoconstrictor). Corn ergot (Ustilago zeae), a fungus found on corn (maize), also contains alkaloids that stimulate the uterus. The chemistry of ergot is similar to that of lysergic acid diethylaminde (LSD); supplies of the fungus are carefully monitored to prevent its use in the manufacture of the illicit drug.

Ergot is a fungus that infects grains of rye and related grasses. It may be most famous for containing the alkaloid ergine (d-lysergic acid amide), better known as natural LSD. During the Middle Ages, tens of thousands of people in Europe who ate rye bread infested with the ergot fungus were afflicted with a disease caused St. Anthony's Fire, which caused gangrene, convulsions, madness, and death. In modern medicine, two of ergot's alkaloids are commonly used: ergonovine, to induce labor and control hemorrhaging, and ergotamine, to relieve migraine headaches.

Poisonous fungus with a hard, purple-black, spindle-shaped scelortium, to 2.5cm (1in) long, parasitic on ovaries of cereal flowers in summer, and globose, brown-purple stroma (resting stage), 2mm (1/16in) across, on the ground in autumn and winter, followed by release of colorless, filiform spores in spring.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Cockspur Rye, Hornseed, Mother of Rye, Spurred Rye
Botanical Name:
Claviceps purpurea
Native Location:
Propagate by spores raised in the laboratory and sprayed on a cereal crop (usually rye).
Sclerotia are harvested mechanically, then processed commercially into liquid extracts and alkaloids.
Parts Used:
Body of the plant, Sclerotia
An unpleasant-smelling herb that stimulates the uterus, constricts blood vessels, and acts of the central nervous system, blocking release of adrenaline.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally in childbirth (expulsion of placenta only), postpartum hemorrhage (ergometrine), and migraine (ergotamine). For use by qualified practitioners.
Ergot was formerly used for migraines and various gynecological and obstetric problems, but is now considered too dangerous to use. In homeopathy, it may be used to treat paralysis, circulatory problems, bleeding and other ailments.
Typical Dose:
A typical homeopathic dose of ergot is approximately 5 drops, 1 tablet, or 10 globules once a day or more, depending on the ailment.
Possible Side Effects:
Ergot's side effects include, queasiness, vomiting, weakness in the legs, numbness in the fingers, angina, and rapid or slow heartbeat.
This herb, especially in the form of ergometrine and ergotamine, is subject to legal restrictions in some countries.
Drug Interactions:
Taking ergot with these drugs may cause or increase serotonergic side effects or serotonin syndrome (with symptoms including agitation, rapid heart rate, flushing, heavy sweating, and possibly even death):
Amitriptyline, (Elavil, Levate)
Amitriptyline and Chlordiazepoxide, (Limbitrol)
Amitriptyline and Perphenazine, (Etrafon, Triavil)
Amoxapine, (Asendin)
Bupropion, (Wellbutrin, Zyban)
Citalopram, (Celexa)
Clomipramine, (Anafranil, Novo-Clopramine)
Desipramine, (Alti-Desipramine, Norpramin)
Dextromethorphan, (Found in various formulations of Alka-Seltzer, Contac, PediaCare, Robitussin, Sudafed, Triaminic, and other over the counter medications.)
Doxepin, (Sinequan, Zonalon)
Fluoxetine, (Prozac, Sarafem)
Fluvoxamine, (Alti-Fluvoxamine, Luvox)
Imipramine, (Apo-Imipramine, Tofranil)
Iproniazid, (Marsilid)
Lofepramine, (Feprapax, Gamanil)
Maprotiline, (Novo-Maprotiline)
Melitracen, (Dixeran)
Meperidine, (Demerol, Meperitab)
Milnacipran, (Dalcipran, Lixel)
Mirtazapine, (Remeron, Remeron SolTab)
Moclobenide, (Alti-Moclobenide, Nu-Moclobenide)
Nefazodone, (Serzone)
Nortriptyline, (Aventyl HCl, Pamelor)
Paroxetine, (Paxil)
Pentazocine, (Talwin)
Phenelzine, (Nardil)
Protriptyline, (Vivactil)
Reboxetine, (Davedex, Integrex)
S-Citalopram, (Lexapro)
Selegiline, (Eldepryl)
Sertraline, (Apo-Sertraline, Zoloft)
Tramadol, (Ultram)
Tranylcypromine, (Parnate)
Trazodone, (Desyrel, Novo-Trazodone)
Trimipramine, (Apo-Trimip, Surmontil)
Venlafaxine, (Effexor)
Taking ergot with these drugs may increase the adverse effects of the drug:
Belladonna, Phenobarbital, and Ergotamine, (Bellamine S, Bel-Tabs)
Bromocriptine, (Apo-Bromocriptine, Parlodel)
Cabergoline, (Dostinex)
Dihydroergotamine, (Migranal)
Ergoloid Mesylates, (Hydergine)
Ergonovine, (Ergonovine)
Ergotamine, (Cafergor, Cafergot)
Methylergonovine, (Methergine)
Methysergide, (Sansert)
Pergolide, (Permax)
Disease Effects:
May worsen heart problems and peripheral vascular disease by causing arteries to constrict, hampering blood flow.
Supplement Interactions:
  • May increase positive and negative effects of herbs and supplements that have serotonergic properties, such as 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe), and St. John's Wort.
  • May increase positive and negative effects of herbs and supplements that have sympathomimetic activity (stimulate the central nervous system), such as Bitter Orange, Country Mallow, and Ma-Huang.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pg. 173
The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide by Geo. T. Grossberg,MD and Barry Fox,PhD Copyright©2007 Barry Fox,PhD. Pp.201-203