The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Balansia cyperi Edgerton


Cyprus Grass Fungus




Clavicipitaceae; Subfamily Balansiae

The Balansia cyperi fungus is closely related to Claviceps and is parasitic exclusively on Cyprus grasses (Cyperacea; Edgerton 1919). In Ecuador, it infests chiefly Cyperus prolixus H.B.K., a grass known locally as piripiri that the women of the Jívaro use to aid in birthing (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis 1990). Piripiri is also used as an ayahuasca additive (cf. Cyperus spp.) and as a folk medicine for treating snakebites (Plowman et al. 1990).

Balansia cyperi is a parasite that preferentially infests the following species of Cyprus grasses (Clay 1986, Lewis an Elvin-Lewis 1990, Plowman et al. 1990):


Cyperus articulatus L.

Cyperus articulatus L. var. nodosus (H. et B. ex Willd.) Kuek.

Cyprus prolixus H.B.K.—piripiri

Cyperus pseudovegetus Steudel

Cyperus rotundus L.—nut grass

Cyperus surinamensis Rottb.

Cyperus virens Michx.


Two of the ergot alkaloids found in Cyprus grasses infested with Balansia (Plowman et al. 1990), ergobalansine and ergobalansinin, were recently detected in the vine Ipomoea piureusis (cf. Ipomoea spp.)(Jnett-Siems et al. 1994).

Ergot alkaloids are also present in the following Balansia species: Balansia claviceps Speg., Balansia epichloë (Weese) Diehl, Balansia henningsiana (Moell.) Diehl, Balansia strangulans (Mont.) Diehl (Plowman et al. 1990, 459).



See also the entries for Ipomoea spp.Cyperus spp.Scirpus spp., and ergot alkaloids.


Clay, Keith. 1986. Induced vivipary in the sedge Cyperus virens and the transmission of the fungus Balansia cyperi (Clavicipitaceae). Canadian Journal of Botany 64:2984–88.


Edgerton, C. W. 1919. A new Balansia on CyperusMycologia 11:259–61.


Jnett-Siems, K., M. Kaloga, and E. Eich. 1994. Ergobalansine/ergobalansinin, a proline-free peptide-alkaloid of the genus Balansia, is a constituent of Ipomoea piurensisJournal of Natural Products 57:1304–6.


Leuchtmann, Adrian, and Keith Clay. 1988a. Atkinsonella hypoxylon and Balansia cyperi, epiphytic members of the Balansiae. Mycologia 80 (2): 192–99.


———. 1988b. Experimental infection of host grasses and sedges with Atkinsonella hypoxylon and Balansia cyperi (Balansiae, Clavicipitaceae). Mycologia 80 (3): 291–97.


Lewis, Walter H., and Memory Elvin-Lewis. 1990. Obstetrical use of the parasitic fungus Balansia cyperi by Amazonian Jivaro women. Economic Botany 44:131–33.


Plowman, Timothy C., Adrian Leuchtmann, Carol Blaney, and Keith Clay. 1990. Significance of the fungus Balansia cyperi infecting medicinal species of Cyperus (Cyperaceae) from Amazonia. Economic Botany 44:452–62.