Field of Science

Ergot & art

One of the things TPP misses the most about teaching is finding interesting connections between botany and other cultural things and lacking a class of interested (?) students to present them to.  Perhaps TPP is weird in this regard, but people who find "connections" interesting always seem to have the best scholarly attitudes or at least an intellectual curiosity. 
Ergot is a fungal parasite of cereal grains and when its spores contaminate flour and bread, it can produce dramatic side effects, various forms of ergotism, the stuff of the Salem witch trials, and effects that include hallucinations.  So this article investigates whether hallucinations ever influenced art especially a fellow like Hieronymus Bosch who really painted some strange images, strange enough that it is not difficult to imagine he was under some kind of hallucinogenic influence.  Image shows an ergot spore body replacing a cereal grain where it could contaminate flour ultimately leading to the idea that the whiter the flour the more pure it was (image from the Wikimedia Creative Commons complements of Accipiter). 

1 comment:

Katherine said...

Well, thank you for presenting all of these interesting connections with ergotism to your blog audience!
And that image of an ergot spore body is striking- does make you hope that there are no dark granules in your flour!