Ergot: things to know

The most important thing to know about ergot is that you have to be careful. Because if in the past it was often talked about due to the diseases it caused (especially the St. Anthony's fire but also herpes zoster) it is not that today it has completely disappeared. So never buy rye directly from the farm, where it is impossible for anyone to guarantee that the cereal has not been contaminated by the fungus of the ergot.

In reality, even packaged foods and rye bread are not completely safe, the alkaloids contained in ergot (including lysergic acid) in fact resist the high temperatures of the ovens, but the selection and strict controls on the seeds before processing are effective measures. The alert therefore refers only to the purchase of unselected seeds and becomes topical for two reasons.

The first reason is that the new species of rye ensure on the one hand more abundant harvests than this cereal, but are more vulnerable to attack by the parasite that transforms the rye into ergot. The mushroom transforms the grain into an arched horn (hence the name ergot) of black-purple color called 'sclerotia'. In addition to the shape and color, the sclerotium of the ergot it can be recognized by its nauseating smell and bitter taste, but if you experience the flavor, it's better not to get there.

The most serious consequence of the ergot on the human body is, as mentioned, the disease commonly known as the fire of St. Anthony and which scientifically is called egotism. Egotism can manifest itself in two ways: depression, fatigue, nausea, mental disturbances, sensory excitations that become consultations accompanied by hallucinations, or gangrene of the extremities. It is a very serious, once deadly disease. The last documented case on people dates back to 1951 in France, but on animals fed with uncontrolled forage it is not so uncommon.

Video: Ergot (January 2022).