Ergot poisoning occasionally still occurs among persons who eat bread made from diseased rye.
Several terrible epidemics (St Anthony's Fire, a form of erysipelas) occurred in France and Germany during the Middle Ages and may have been linked with ergot poisoning. Ergot is a spawn of Claviceps purpurea, a fungus which grows in the grain of rye. It contains several active principles, including the alkaloids ergometrine, ergotoxine and ergotamine. As a drug is causes prolonged contraction of unstriped muscle fibres, particularly of the blood vessels and womb, and has been in use in midwifery since the 16th century. Ergotamine tartrate is effective in the treatment of migraine.