Historical view on ergot alkaloids

Pharmacology. 1978;16 Suppl 1:1-11. doi: 10.1159/000136803.


A short survey of the history of ergot, of the original and, for a long time, only source of ergot alkaloids, is given. Once a dreaded poison, ergot has changed its role over the centuries to become a rich treasure house of valuable pharmaceuticals. In the Middle Ages it was the cause of epidemics of ergotism, which cost tens of thousands of people their lives. Ergot was first mentioned by the German physician Lonitzer in 1582 as a remedy used by midwives for quickening childbirth. The isolation of pharmacologically useful alkaloids started in 1906 with the discovery of ergotoxine and its adrenolytic activity by Barger, Carr and Dale. In 1918, Stoll isolated ergotamine, the first chemically pure ergot alkaloid, which found widespread therapeutic use in obstetrics and internal medicine. In 1935 the specific oxytocic principle of ergot, ergonovine, was discovered simultaneously in four separate laboratories. Since then, worldwide investigations on ergot alkaloids resulted in the elucidation of their structures and total syntheses and preparation of valuable therapeutics such as Methergine, Hydergine, Dihydergot, and others.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Chemistry
  • Ergot Alkaloids / chemical synthesis
  • Ergot Alkaloids / history*
  • Ergot Alkaloids / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • History, Modern 1601-
  • Humans
  • Oxytocics / therapeutic use
  • Sympatholytics / therapeutic use


  • Ergot Alkaloids
  • Oxytocics
  • Sympatholytics