What about pastrami sandwiches?

Reader Alison asks if there’s much risk from ergot-infected rye today. The answer is not really. Though no ergot-resistant strain of rye has ever been developed, a variety of measures are taken these days to minimize the risk of ergot infection. Rye seeds are carefully screened for evidence of ergot, rye fields are plowed extra deep to keep ergot from germinating after harvest, and different crops are rotated in and out on alternating years. All combined, these various strategies do an excellent job of keeping ergot, and by extension the risk of ergotism, down.

In fact it’s been 55 years since the last known outbreak of ergotism, which occurred in France in 1951. One hundred or so people, most of them immigrants from central Europe, became sick with delusions and other symptoms. Of course the connection between the fungus and the disease had been known for 100 years by that time, and it seems the outbreak was due to an unscrupulous local farmer (and miller) unloading bad grain on new arrivals who didn’t know any better. The only major outbreaks prior to that came in 1927, when 200 people in England and 10,000 people in Russia were afflicted.

Nowadays you scarcely ever hear of ergot, except in pharmaceutical quarters where derivatives of the fungus are used to make the drug ergotamine (a migraine preventative) and ergonovine (used to reduce postpartum bleeding). Interesting, isn’t it, how something so deadly and horrible actually has a modern, constructive use. Another monster brought to heel.

13 thoughts on “What about pastrami sandwiches?”

  1. This has been a fascinating series. My rye starter seems to be doing well (it really does grow fast), but I have to say I looked at it very suspiciously this morning!

    1. Yeah it’ll sneak up on you. Don’t turn your back on it! 😉

      And thanks, Chana! Have a great weekend!

      – Joe

  2. And another great point from you, Joe.

    It seems like active compounds like the ones found in the ergot family (there’s a whole LIST of them) have some sort of effect on out bodies and neuro-chemistry.

    The website I mentioned in passing earlier was instrumental in helping to carry out clinical trials which have proven that sub-recreational doses of psilocin can stop cluster headaches in their tracks, as well as treat and prevent migraines.

    This is a personal soapbox of mine, and I promise to only get on it when I have something to add, but a lot of people who have been vilifying these drugs to a certain extent because of their bio-activity are missing a big, big point.

    If it’s active, that means it DOES something, and the sooner and better that we can figure out what the do, the sooner and better we can turn them into pharmaceuticals that help people.

    1. Mrs. Pastry could benefit for sure, poor thing suffers from migraines on a regular basis. Thanks again for the comment, D!

      – Joe

      1. She doesn’t have suffer, and she doesn’t have to trip either. http://www.neurology.org/content/66/12/1920

        Although it is hard to get into a study, with a only a few items that you might have around the house psychedelic mushrooms cultivation can be fun. And it can lead to edible mushroom cultivation too! (try an oyster mushroom risotto with homemade stock sometime)

        Be friendly, be polite, explain your situation, and you’ll find someone to help you cure your wife: https://mycotopia.net/forums/fungi-all-edible-medicinal-other-mushrooms/ (currently locked for upgrades, check the archives)

        There are a few hippies there (I might be one) but they;’re easy to weed (Ha!) out.

        1. Thanks again, D! I think we’ll stick with the neurology department for now, but it’s useful to know what the full range of possibilities are.

          I greatly appreciate your help and your insights. Cheers,

          – Joe

          1. Not to keep drawing this discussion out, but this IS the neuropathology department.

            In the New Age, drugs won’t be synthesized Ely Lilly, they’ll be grown.

            Like meat.

          2. I think that’s very true. There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in pharma. I used to work for a firm that did nothing but market pharmaceuticals. It was very boring work. However it’s interesting to see what’s going on these days in the realm of made-for-you medications. As a cancer survivor I find it interesting to think that one day soon oncology offices may be creating custom cocktails right there while you wait. So long Elli Lilly!

            I’ll pass on the lab-burgers though. 😉

            – Joe

  3. I am sure I am missing a point, but doesn’t the heat during baking destroy the fungus, or is it the traces of toxic substances that the ergot produces what remains and does the harm?

    1. Hi Dani!

      You’re exactly right, the toxins are what stay behind and do the damage, even after the oven heat kills the fungus off. Heat does nothing to destroy those, sadly, and they’re what cause ergotism.

      I should have been clearer on that point. Thanks so much for the comment!

      – Joe

  4. Of course, ergonovine (we call it ergometrine here in NZ) comes with some pretty wicked side effects too, it raises blood pressure (so can’t be used where women have had BP issues in pregnancy) and it causes vomiting and nausea and shaking and awful afterpains…preferable to bleeding to death, but there are gentler drugs that can be used these days too.

    1. Yes I’m sure. Nice that we’ve been able to er, “evolve” the therapy over the years!

      Thanks again, Annemarie!

      – Joe

      1. Statin drugs were first isolated from oyster mushrooms. Lentinin, a powerful anti-cancer drug, is being isolated from shiitakes.

        A few jars, in a dark closet, to drastically help your wife’s quality of life wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

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