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Claviceps purpurea

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  • Botanical: Claviceps purpurea
  • Family: Clavicipitaceae
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Claviceps purpurea

Botanical

Claviceps purpurea

Family

Clavicipitaceae

Known as

Purpurbrauner Mutterkornpilz

Old Use

medical

Medicinal

bleeding, menstrual cramps, menstrual problems, menopausal symptom

Heart & Circulation

bleeding

Hormone & Sexual Organs

cramps, gynecological issues, menstrual problems, menopausal symptom, uterine bleeding, uterine cramps

Properties

tonic

Description

An ergot kernel called Sclerotium clavus develops when a floret of flowering grass or cereal is infected by a ascospore of C. purpurea. The infection process mimics a pollen grain growing into an ovary during fertilization. Because infection requires access of the fungal spore to the stigma, plants infected by C. purpurea are mainly outcrossing species with open flowers, such as rye (Secale cereale) and Alopecurus. Various stages in the life cycle of Claviceps purpurea The proliferating fungal mycelium then destroys the plant ovary and connects with the vascular bundle originally intended for feeding the developing seed. The first stage of ergot infection manifests itself as a white soft tissue (known as Sphacelia segetum) producing sugary honeydew, which often drops out of the infected grass florets. This honeydew contains millions of asexual spores (conidia) which are dispersed to other florets by insects or rain. Later, the Sphacelia segetum convert into a hard dry Sclerotium clavus inside the husk of the floret. At this stage, alkaloids and lipids (e.g. ricinoleic acid) accumulate in the Sclerotium. When a mature Sclerotium drops to the ground, the fungus remains dormant until proper conditions trigger its fruiting phase (onset of spring, rain period, need of fresh temperatures during winter, etc.). It germinates, forming one or several fruiting bodies with head and stipe, variously colored (resembling a tiny mushroom). In the head, threadlike sexual spores (ascospores) are formed in perithecia, which are ejected simultaneously, when suitable grass hosts are flowering. Ergot infection causes a reduction in the yield and quality of grain and hay produced, and if infected grain or hay is fed to livestock it may cause a disease called ergotism. Polistes dorsalis, a species of social wasps, have been recorded as a vector of the spread of this particular fungus. During their foraging behavior, particles of the fungal conidia get bound to parts of this wasp's body. As P. dorsalis travels from source to source, it leaves the fungal infection behind. Insects, including flies and moths, have also been shown to carry conidia of Claviceps species, but if insects play a role in spreading the fungus from infected to healthy plants is unknown

Properties & Uses

Despite serious safety concerns, ergot has been used as medicine. Women use it to treat excessive bleeding during menstrual periods, at the start of menopause, and before and after miscarriage. They also use ergot after childbirth to expel the placenta and contract the uterus. Historically, ergot was used to speed up labor, but its use was abandoned when people made a connection between the use of ergot and an increased number of stillbirths.

Cautions

Heart disease - Ergot can narrow blood vessels and make heart disease worse.

Kidney disease - People with kidney problems are not able to flush ergot out of their bodies well enough. This can cause ergo to build up, and that increases the risk of ergot poisoning.

Liver disease - People with liver problems are not able to remove ergot from their bodies well enough. This can cause ergo to build up, and that increases the risk of ergot poisoning.

Narrowing of the blood vessels that supply the legs and feet (peripheral vascular disease) - Ergot can narrow blood vessels and make this condition worse.

Distribution

New Jersey, USA and southern England.

Constituents

The ergot sclerotium contains up to 30-40% of fatty oils and up to 2% of alkaloids. The other components of the sclerotium are free amino acids, ergosterin, choline, acetylcholine, betaine, ergothionine, uracil, guanidine, free aromatic and heterocyclic amines (tyramine, histamine, agmatine) and alkylamines (the natural representatives of which were originally found in ergot). The outer shell of sclerotium contains acid pigments belonging to anthraquinolinic acid derivatives, including orange- red (endocrinin, clavorubin) and light yellow (ergochromes, ergochrysins). These pigments form part of the sclerotium shell giving rise to the greyish-brown-violet colour. Albino ergot strains also exist which are incapable of producing pigments. Naturally growing Claviceps purpurea species has several geographic types differing in both qualitive and quantitative composition of alkaloids. So ergot strains are specially selected that are capable of producing predominantly a single alkaloid or a certain group of alkaloids: ergotamine, ergotoxine, ergocristine, etc.

For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.