The first lecture in our medicinal plant series is taking place on Monday 18 July.
Enjoy talks from Professor Tilli Tansey and Professor Mark Nesbitt as they explore ‘Ergot: from a dreaded poison to a treasure-house of drugs’ and ‘a natural history of tonic water.’
2.00pm Welcome and introduction
2.05pm Ergot: from a dreaded poison to a treasure-house of drugs
Professor Tilli Tansey, emeritus professor of medical history and pharmacology, Queen Mary University of London
3.10pm Just the tonic: a natural history of tonic water
Professor Mark Nesbitt, senior research leader for interdisciplinary research, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
4.15pm Live Q&A with our speakers
4.30pm End of session
Ergot, Claviceps purpurea is a fungus that predominantly infects rye and other grasses especially in cool, damp climates. It produces an astonishing array of biologically active alkaloids, some of which, in contaminated flour, cause 'ergotism' the symptoms of which can include gangrene, hallucinations, convulsions and vomiting. Epidemics of ergotism were comparatively common in Europe in the Middle Ages, although improved flour production techniques reduced its incidence. Extracts of ergot however were used by local midwives to hasten recalcitrant labours, and by the nineteenth century this aspect was attracting some serious medical attention. It was not until the twentieth century however that the true obstetrically active principle of ergot was finally isolated, at a time when several other physiologically important chemicals, including acetylcholine, tyramine, and histamine were also discovered to be constituents of ergot. Some aspects of ergot's diverse medical history will be discussed.
Often thought of as the archetypical English drink, the gin and tonic is the product of global forces: the discovery of quinine's unique effectiveness in treating malaria, the transfer of cinchona trees from the Andes to Asia, classical belief in the tonic effects of sparkling water, and the British colonisation of India all come into play. Drawing on his recent book, co-authored with Kim Walker, Mark's talk will bust myths and change the way you regard this refreshing beverage.
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