VIII49 Ergotism

Ergotism is a disease condition acquired by eating cereal grains infected with ergot fungus. Known since the time of Galen, it was prevalent in medieval Europe, particularly among the poor who, during famine, consumed bread made from spoiled rye. Ergot (secale cornutum, spur of the corn, horned rye, womb grain), the dried sclerotium of Claviceps purpurea, develops on the ovary of common rye, or on corn, where it was previously known as corn smut. The actual cause of ergot in grasses was hotly debated by early naturalists, some of whom thought it occurred in rainy weather and was attributable to fog or impure atmosphere. Others believed it to be the work of worms or butterflies, whereas still others regarded it as the product of improper fecundation or perhaps the cooking of the sexual parts of the plants.

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