The University Gardens
Historical plants of Bergen

Claviceps purpurea (ergot)

From epidemics of hallucinations and gruesome deaths to drugs and psychedelics.

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From 1507 to 1528, the Order of the Antonites, the St. Antonius Brothers, took over the Nonneseter Monastery. The order was devoted to the care of people who suffered from St. Antonius' fire, a disease caused by eating flour contaminated with ergot fungus. The disease often appeared in rainy years when the grain harvest was poor. Many were delighted with the "extra-large grains" that bulked up the flour and used it without knowing that they would become ill. This regularly led to epidemics with thousands of deaths. The Antonites treated their patients with flour from grain which they cleaned of ergot before milling.

Toxins produced by ergot cause hallucinations and lead to smooth muscle contraction. Blood vessels are narrowed, there is a burning sensation in the skin and fingers and toes, and in chronic cases, there follows loss of limbs and death. Today, substances produced from the poison are used medicinally to stop bleeding at birth. The psychedelic drug LSD is also made from ergotoxins.


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