Ergot (Claviceps pupurea)

Ergot has a fascinating history. Over the centuries its role and significance have undergone a complete metamophosis. Once a dreaded poisonous contaminant, it has come to be regarded as a rich treasure house of drugs...
Ergot began its history as a poisonous contaminant of edible grain. As early as 600 B.C., an Assyrian tablets alluded to a "noxcious pustule in the ear of the grain." In the Middle Ages, bizarre epidemics occurred in Europe which cost tens of thousands of people their lives, caused by bread made from rye contaminated with ergot.
Ergot was first mentioned as a remedy used by midwives for quickening labor by the German physician Lontizer in 1582.... But in 1824, Hosack, recognizing the dangers of using ergot for accelerating child-birth, recommended that the drug be used only to control postpartum hemorrhage. Since that time ergot has been used in obstetrics mainly for this purpose.
The last and most important chapter in the history of ergot, and one which is still not completed, concerns ergot as a source of pharmacologically useful alkaloids. It started with the isolation of ergotoxine in 1906 by Barger and Carr and the discovery of its adrenolytic activity. In 1918, I Stoll isolated ergotamine, the first ergot alkaloid to find widespread therapeutic use in obstetrics and internal medicine. Another important step was the discovery in 1935 of the specific oxytocic principle of ergot by Dudley and Moir, which resulted in the isolation of the alkaloid ergonovine simultaneously in four separate laboratories.
Since 1935, extensive investigations on the chemistry of ergot alkaloids have been carried out mainly by Jacobs and Craig in the United States, Smith and Timmis in England, and Stoll, Hofmann et al., paralleled by pharmacological and clinical investigations by Rothlin, Cerletti et al., in Switzerland.

from Ergot - A Rich Source of Pharmacologically Active Substances by Albert Hofmann

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