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A Bewitching Fungus Among Us

Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

By Carol

In honor of the warmer weather and sunshine, IPC will feature one toxic plant per month on our blog.  The plants of the world are filled with chemical compounds that interact with receptors in the human body and many of them have quite a long sordid history (and present) in art, literature and of course science and medicine.

Claviceps purpurea

I’m getting a little tricky here with the first plant post because my personal favorite toxic/medicine growing thing is not technically a plant; it’s a fungus: Claviceps Purpurea. It contaminates rye and other grains, especially when the weather is cool and moist and there is a delayed harvest. C Purpurea is responsible for ergotism, which is caused by the numerous toxins the fungus produces including ergotamine (the biggie), histamine, tyramine, isomylamine, acetylcholine, and acetaldehyde.  Recordings of grain contamination by C Purpurea date back to the stone tablets of 600 BC.  Ergotamine is a precursor for Lysergic Acid Diethyamide (LSD or acid), and is actually what Dr Albert Hoffman was tinkering with when he serendipitously discovered the hallucinogen. Read more »