Holy Fire

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 12 August 2010 16:45

This little fungus, Ergot, has a fascinating history and a bizarre fruiting body. It grows only out of the flower heads of grasses, commonly False Oat-grass but here on Common Couch. According to Roger Phillips's excellent book on fungi, historically it grew in food crops and that's how it got into the food chain. This fungus is deadly poisonous and so severe and rapid were the physical and psychological symptoms that they were thought to be a punishment from God known as 'Holy Fire'. There is also a theory that this fungus caused the insanity that led to the Salem Witch Trials in the States (thanks Steve). The physical symptoms include burning then gangrenous limbs and if that does not get you the convulsions, hallucinations and psychotic behaviour will. It's a surprisingly common fungus and this was taken at Woods Mill today. Now, I fancy some more of that home made bread and these witches aren't gonna burn themselves...

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