ERGOT. SPURRED RYE. MUTTERKORN.
A metamorphosis of rye, or other grain, by which it is converted, wholly or in part, into a curved, purplish-black, cylindrical, tapering and grooved excrescence, from one to three lines in diameter, and usually from six to ten lines long. When dry it is firm and brittle, but when moist is soft and flexible. It gives out a sickening, heavy smell. Its color externally is purplish black. Internally it is pinkish white. It has a nauseous and slightly acrid taste."
It is said to be more active if gathered while the grain is still standing, about harvest time, than if collected after harvest.
It appears from the popular German name of this substance that it has been in domestic use as a parturifacient from early ages. So it certainly was in France. Indeed, its use as such in France was interdicted in 1774.
Still, it was ignored by physicians until Dr. Stearns of Waterford, N.Y., introduced it in 1807 as "a substance which he had used for several years to expedite lingering labors when the pains had subsided, and were incompetent to expel the foetus." Since that time it has been more or less generally used in lingering labors. It is well understood that its power to cause violent contractions of the muscular fibres of the uterus, is so great that it should never be given when the os uteri is not fully dilated, nor unless there be satisfactory evidence that no mechanical obstacle interferes with the completion of the labor; otherwise, there is great danger of death of the foetus from violent compression, or of rupture of the uterus from the same cause.
It is justly regarded as unfortunate if the labor do not come to an end soon after the administration of the Ergot, since if it be delayed there is reason to believe that the child will be poisoned by it.
Ergot is used in the forms of infusion, tincture, wine, trituration, and watery extract.
Its effects on the lower animals are as follows: The pulse is lessened, the action of the heart becomes irregular, the breathing slow and deep, appetite and flesh fail; tremulousness, staggering and dullness come on. Haemorrhage of black blood from the nostrils, bowels or vagina occurs, then diarrhoea and death ensue. Moreover, it acts uniformly in a greater or less degree upon the gravid uterus, causing abortion or premature delivery, and, not infrequently, death of the foetus.
On man, in small doses, not often repeated, it is said to have produced colic, nausea and vomiting, salivation and diarrhoea. Depression of the pulse always results from its use.
These poisonous effects are said to be due to the oil of the Ergot, which, if given alone to a parturient woman, does not cause contraction of the uterus, but does poison the foetus. Whereas, on the other hand, the Ergot, deprived of its oil, acts on the uterus, but does not poison the foetus.
These statements should be taken CUM GRANO SALTS.
In certain districts and throughout some countries, Poland in particular, the grain has at certain periods been so completely ergoted that the nutriment of the entire population has been more or less contaminated with this poison. Hence have arisen epidemics of a malady called ergotism. One of the earliest dates 1096. Ergotism is of two kinds, spasmodic and gangrenous.
The spasmodic is ushered in by a general feeling of illness. Then follow formication of the whole skin, cramps and numbness of the extremities, and pains in the head and back. After a few weeks occur heart-burn, vertigo, syncope, deafness, paroxysmal or permanent curvature (flexure) of the joints, and equally violent extension and opisthotonos, twitching of the facial muscles, sometimes violent delirium with cold skin, intense internal heat, and foetid sweat. These attacks last several hours.
After a while the convulsive aspect of the disease ceases. It is followed by exhaustion, debility, oppression, heart-burn, and a ravenous appetite, which it is dangerous to gratify. Sometimes strabismus or loss of sight succeeds, with general insensibility of the skin. After death the stomach and bowels are found inflamed and the parenchymatous organs congested. It generally proves fatal in three or four weeks. It is very fatal.
The gangrenous form is very different. It commences with dull pain and weariness of the limbs, with heaviness and stupidity of the face. The skin acquires an earthy or jaundiced hue. The extremity about to be affected (sometimes it is the nose) becomes cold, and the skin over it gets dusky red. Then gangrene begins in the inside of the end of an extremity (or of the nose) and extends outward to the skin. It also extends upward toward the trunk. The parts affected shrivel, dry up, become black and harden until they look like those of a mummy. They separate from the living flesh without haemorrhage and by a clean line of division. Death is sometimes preceded by diarrhoea. Beside weakness, there is not much general disturbance. The cases run their course in about three weeks, and are almost always fatal.
To describe more particularly the more characteristic symptoms of Secale, we may mention :
1. General numbness and formication over the whole body. 2. The disposition is exceedingly melancholy, and depressed, with apprehension and dread of death. There is also violent mania.
3. Vertigo and stupefaction ; dull headache.
4. Dilatation of the pupils, the eyes stare. There is double vision, squinting, obscuration of the sight.
5. Humming and roaring in the ears.
6. The face is pale and sunken. The complexion is earthy and sallow.
7. The voice becomes feeble. Speech is slow and difficult and inarticulate. There is tingling in the tip of the tongue, which is stiff.
8. Bleeding from the nose ; dark blood is discharged.
9. Appetite gone.
10. Eructations, heart-burn, vomiting. Constant retching and oppression. Burning in the stomach.
11. Coldness in the back and abdomen. Burning in the abdomen.
12. Painful diarrhoea, with great prostration. Involuntary diarrhoea; putrid, watery, fetid, brown, profuse diarrhoea, with great exhaustion ; a sudden change of the expression of the face, sinking of the eyes, etc., etc., as in cholera; suppression of the urine, etc.
13. Diminution and suppression of the urine.
14. The menses too profuse and too soon. Metrorrhagia, the blood being very liquid, but dark and attended by formication. Labor-like pains.
15. Weakness of the extremities. Formication. Convulsions. Rigidity. Gangrene.
1. In lingering labors, where no obstruction ex ists, it is in common use. The infusion is preferred. Two drachms of pulv. Ergoti in eight ounces of water. The dose is two drachms every five minutes. The objections are its bad effects on the child. Hence the rule not to use it except where labor may be expected to end within a short time after giving it.
I prefer the Dublin mode of using the forceps early. In homeopathic practice, Ergot is generally superseded by Pulsatilla or Nux vomica.
2. In uterine haemorrhage, whether as a sequel of abortion or labor, or an independent occurrence, or a concomitant of cancer, etc. It is character ized by the blood being dark and liquid, and by the general symptoms, especially the formication. It is used by allopaths to bring on abortion, pro voking haemorrhage; yet Gardner recommends it to arrest abortion begun from other causes !
In Asiatic cholera, Ergot has been used with success.
In diarrhoea, fetid, brown, watery, passing involuntarily, or nearly so, it is a most valuable remedy.
In cancer uteri it arrests haemorrhage and relieves the terrible burning pains at night which torment the patient. This it does in small doses, even the 200th.
In paralysis, and particularly in paraplegia, as well as in dry gangrene, Secale should receive greater attention than is generally accorded to it.