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Ergot, Ergo...

Ancient beliefs often linked mental disturbances to evil spirits, supernatural or magical powers. The Salem Witch Trials  of 1692 in colonial Massachusetts, one of the biggest witch hunts ever, were long described as a case of mass hysteria or religious zealotry in history books. However, Linnda Caporael, a behavioral psychologist, theorized that ergot poisoning may be responsible for "bewitched" behaviors of those accused.

The fungus ergot thrives in warm, damp settings, conditions that match those of the swampy meadows of Salem, especially during spring and summer of 1691. Rye, the staple grain, may have become contaminated with ergot due to the warm, moist weather and storage conditions. As a consequence, witch hunters and "witches" who ate rye may have been at least slightly out of their mind at the time.

Ergot is not always bad, however. Like syph-curing penicillin is derived from a fungus, ergotamine, an alkaloid derived from the ergot fungus, has been isolat…

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