The Usage of Ergot (Claviceps purpurea (fr.) Tul.) in Obstetrics and Gynecology: A Historical Perspective

Toxins (Basel). 2021 Jul 15;13(7):492. doi: 10.3390/toxins13070492.


In the past centuries consumption of bread made of ergot-infected flour resulted in mass poisonings and miscarriages. The reason was the sclerotia of Claviceps purpurea (Fr.) Tul.-a source of noxious ergot alkaloids (ergotamine and ergovaline). The authors have searched the 19th century medical literature in order to find information on the following topics: dosage forms of drugs based on ergot and their application in official gynecology and obstetrics. The authors also briefly address the relevant data from the previous periods as well as the 20th century research on ergot. The research resulted in a conclusion that applications of ergot in gynecology and obstetrics in the 19th century were limited to controlling excessive uterine bleeding and irregular spasms, treatment of fibrous tumors of the uterus, and prevention of miscarriage, abortion, and amenorrhoea. The most common dosage forms mentioned in the works included in our review were the following: tinctures, water extracts (Wernich's and Squibb's watery extract of ergot), pills, and powders. The information documented in this paper will be helpful for further research and helpful in broadening the understanding of the historical application of the described controversial crude drugs. Ergot alkaloids were widely used in obstetrics, but in modern times they are not used in developed countries anymore. They may, however, play a significant role in developing countries where, in some cases, they can be used as an anti-hemorrhage agent during labor.

Keywords: abortion; childbirth; ergot; ethnopharmacology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Claviceps
  • Ergot Alkaloids / therapeutic use*
  • Ergotamine
  • Ergotamines
  • Gynecology
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide / analogs & derivatives
  • Obstetrics


  • Ergot Alkaloids
  • Ergotamines
  • ergovaline
  • lysergamide
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
  • Ergotamine