Drugs: Absinthe





The letter writer to the Fortean Times claimed he "helped plant some seeds for the Absinthe revival". His "two most recent Blood Axis albums have been entirely concerned with that once.banned elixir". I commented: Anyone who views absinthe as an elixir, i.e. a cure for all ailments, is a weirdo. George Sassoon explains: When in Pontarlier in the south of France, I spent some time in the absinthe museum there.  The town was once a center for producing the drink.  According to the literature that I acquired there, the herb on which absinthe is based was regarded as a panacea for all ills by the Romans.  It is only when mixed with strong alcohol that it becomes lethal. A weaker version is now being produced for export in France.  RH: George spent some time in the absinthe museum? Do they provide free tastings, like a California winery? My guess is that the story told by the museum is more positive than the harsh reality. Henri-Louis Pernod first produced absinthe in 1797, based on a recipe he obtained from Couvet,  Switzerland,  The key element is wormwood, which contains absinthin,  a toxic substance which can cause nausea, trembling, stupor, convulsions, or death.  Some elixir. That is the problem, not the alcohol. My guess is that the Romans made a different herb drink, and that the museum is trying to give absinthe a spurious genealogy.  Absinthe is generally banned, but several substitutes have been developed. In view of French law about "appellations controlées", I am surprised that the manufacturers are allowed to call the substitutes absinthe.
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George Sassoon spent some time in a French absinthe museum.  I asked: Do they provide free tastings, like a California winery? My guess is that the story told by the museum is more positive than the harsh reality. Henri-Louis Pernod first produced absinthe in 1797, based on a recipe he obtained from Couvet,  Switzerland,  The key element is wormwood, which contains absinthin,  a toxic substance which can cause nausea, trembling, stupor, convulsions, or death.  Some elixir. That is the problem, not the alcohol. My guess is that the Romans made a different herb drink, and that the museum is trying to give absinthe a spurious genealogy.  Absinthe is generally banned, but several substitutes have been developed. In view of French law about "appellations controlées", I am surprised that the manufacturers are allowed to call the substitutes absinthe.

George explains: No free tastings, I'm afraid!  I bought some bottles elsewhere out of curiosity.  Apparently Swiss farmers (just over the border from Pontarlier) are allowed to make it strictly for their own use, and it is still legal in ex-Czechoslovakia and Spain.  You may be right about appellations controlées.  I have a bottle of the La Fée brand bought in England which has on it the inscription "A spirit distilled with wormwood under the supervision of the Absinthe Museum, Auvers-sur-Oise, France" and gives the web site www.eabsinthe.com.  "With" wormwood can imply a negligible quantity under British law.  I have not visited the other museum at Auvers-sur-Oise.  The alcohol content of La Fée is given as 68% which I think is 136 U.S. proof.  Normal spirits here are 40 or 45% by volume. After the drink was banned, Pernod started producing the pastis which is still popular under that name.

RH: Are you puzzled by the name of the plant, wormwood? Its oil was used in the treatment of intestinal worms. If you suffer from that, try absinthe, a pleasant cure. However, in the UK, be careful, otherwise you may end up in Wormwood Scrubbs, a well-known jail.  Can George explain the name?.

From Paris, Carmen Negrin writes: At http://www.chez.com/absint/ and  http://www.heureverte.com/ you will find some explanations on absinthe (even some in English). Apparently one of its components, the thujone, can be found in Vicks Vaporub. RH: Try drinking Vicks Vaporub.

Glenye Cain writes:There is a good article on absinthe, its traditional ingredients, and how to properly present it, at http://www.lafeeverte.ch/gesetzmedizin/thujoneengl/ The piece includes the information that a New Orleans chemist named Ted Breaux has "replicated the recipe for one of the most important Belle Epoch brands, Edouard Pernod. ... Breaux's absinthe (soon to be commercialized outside of the US) is believed by many to be the finest the world has seen since 1915." For the drink's devotees under the ban, it would seem, absinthe makes the heart grow fonder ...RH: This is a serious business.  There must be clinical studies on the worldwide impact of drinking Coca Cola, beer, wine, vodka, etc. Now add absinthe to the list.

Randy Black writes: Wormwood Artemisia Absinthium is the chief flavouring ingredient, native to Europe and Asia.; other aromatic ingredients include aniseed, licorice, hyssop, fennel, angelica root, star aniseed... Wormwood is a long-lived plant, with greyish-green leaves and the flowers have a greenish-yellow tint, and like leaves give off a strong aromatic odor and are bitter to the taste. Thujone is a toxic chemical present in wormwood and has a similar molecular geometry with THC, the active chemical in cannabis.
 Source: http://www.absinth.com/
 
Absinthe is flavoured distilled liquor, emerald green in colour, turning to cloudy, opalescent white when mixed with water. It inspired many prominent artists, writers and poets. Just to name a few - Vincent Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Manet, Ernest Hemingway - in fact his masterpiece  For Whom The Bell Tolls was written under the influence of "The Green Fairy". Absinthe was first produced commercially in 1797 by Henry-Louis Pernod, who purchased the formula from a French exile living in Switzerland. -ibid.

RH The people listed were all pathetic as humans.  Don't get me started on Hemingway and his overrated "masterpiece".

For the medical use of absinthe, George Sassoon calls our attention to http://www.spookspring.com/Artemesia/absinth.html
RH: It is extraordinarily informative.  The only problem is that WAISers may become addicted to absinthe and claim that they are taking it as medicine for a variety of ailments.

For the medical use of absinthe, George Sassoon call our attention to http://www.spookspring.com/Artemesia/absinth.html
Ed Jajko comments: In the cited web page, among the names for absinthe/wormwood in various languages, note that the Russian word for artemisia absinthium is Chernobyl.

The discussion of artemisia absinthium naturally brings to mind Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 - 1652/1653), daughter of the Roman artist, Orazio Gentileschi (1563 - 1639), and one of the first women artists to achieve recognition in the male-dominated world of post-Renaissance art. (See http://www.artemisia-gentileschi.com/index.shtml.)
I suppose that it may only have been after his daughter was an adult that Orazio may have felt that he had named Artemisia appropriately and that she had become as wormwood to him, after her affair with Agostino Tassi.

RH: I too noticed the Russian word Chernobyl. As for the Artemesia-Tassi affair, see
Excerpt from The Passion of Artemisia
... Agostino Tassi was on trial. The words of the indictment my father had sent
... my ears: "Agostino Tassi deflowered my daughter Artemisia and did carnal ...
www.svreeland.com/a-excerpt.html - 20k - Cached - Similar pages
RH: Very unWAIS, but those interested may enjoy the Renaissance soap opera.

From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer writes: Absinthe is legal in Eastern Europe, and the Czech Republic is a major producer.  It is somewhat in vogue in Moscow these days.  Wormwood is not just toxic; it is supposed to have a mild hallucinogenic effect, which is the point.  It is very expensive for some reason. RH: Russians have a choice between vodka and absinthe.  I suppose the latter is considered more classy.

Christian Leitz writes: Here in Switzerland absinthe will be legal again from 1 March after it had been banned for nearly a century. The story is covered by most of the local media and has led to major celebrations in the Canton of Neuenburg (Neuchatel) where the lifting of the ban coincides with the 158th anniversary of the establishment of the Canton and, most importantly, where the "Grüne Fee", or "la bleue" as it's called there, is produced (Val-de-Travers). RH: Switzerland seems to be undergoing a change like Holland. In the old days both countries were very moralistic.  Now they are among the most permissive in Europe.

Christopher Jones writes: As an avid Absinthe drinker, I found the following basics on Wikipedia: Absinthe (from the French) is an alcohol liqueur derived from herbs including the flowers and leaves of wormwood, Artemisia absinthium. Absinthe is known for its popularity in France—and especially its romantic associations with Parisian artists and writers—in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, until its prohibition in 1915. The most popular brand of absinthe known to the world was Pernod Fils.

Absinthe usually has a pale-green color (giving it its nickname "The Green Fairy") and tastes much like an anise-flavored liqueur, but with a more subtle flavor due to the many herbs used, and light bitter undertones. In addition to wormwood, it contains anise (often partially substituted with star anise), Florence fennel, hyssop, melissa, and Roman wormwood (Artemisia pontica). Various recipes also include angelica root, sweet flag, dittany leaves, coriander, and other mountain herbs.

A simple maceration of wormwood without distillation produces an extremely bitter drink, due to the presence of the water-soluble absinthine, one of the most bitter substances known. Authentic recipes call for distillation after the primary maceration and before the secondary or "coloring" maceration. The distillation of wormwood, anise, and florence fennel first produces a colorless "alcoholate", and to this the well-known green color of the beverage is imparted by steeping with the leaves of roman wormwood, hyssop, and melissa. Inferior varieties are made by means of essences or oils cold-mixed in alcohol, the distillation process being omitted.

The alcohol content is extremely high (45 percent - 90 percent), given the low solubility of many of the herbal components in alcohol. It is usually not drunk "straight," but consumed after a fairly elaborate ritual in which a specially designed, slotted spoon with a sugar cube inside its bowl is placed over a glass, and water is poured over the sugar until the drink is diluted 3:1 to 5:1. During that ritual, the components that are not soluble in water come out of solution and cloud the drink; that milky opalescence has always been called the "louche".

Historically, there were four varieties of absinthe: ordinaire, demi-fine, fine, and supérieures or Swiss, the latter of which was of a higher alcoholic strength than the former. It can be colored green (which is done to add flavors) or left clear. The best absinthes contain 65 percent to 75 percent alcohol. It is said to improve very materially by storage. It is known that in the 19th century absinthe, like much food and drink of the time, was occasionally adulterated by profiteers with copper, zinc, indigo, or other dye-stuffs to impart the green color, but this was never done by the best distilleries."

The article explains that the general ban on absinthe has now been lifted and if the THUJONE level is suitably low, it can even be sold in Switzerland, its home. Just a few years ago, it was illegal in France and Germany, while it was easily obtainable in Spain and Portugal.  Addictive, the drink has quite a nefarious past due to its narcotic effects and is held responsible for destroying such talents as Henri Toulouse Lautrec and Alfred Jarry (who drank a half glass of absinthe diluted with a half glass of vinegar, and a dash of sepia ink!)

RH: The West is fighting drug addiction.  Why then is absinthe being legalized?  This discussion takes us into the arcane world of herbs.  Notice the reference to hyssop, a member of the mint family native to southern Europe and central Asia.  It is mentioned several times in the Old Testament, including Psalm 51: 7: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean". Leviticus ( 14:1-7) tells us that a hyssop bush was used to apply the blood and water of purification. Hyssop should grow well in California. All these odd details are enough to drive one to absimthe.

From Mexico, Alejo Orvañanos sends us this article on Ajenjo, Spanish for absinthe, with thecomment: You may find this article of interest. As you can see, Artemisa Absinthium is recommended as medicinal, can also be smoked, and it is legal (??) as an "agente inspirador".  I wonder what kind of inspiration it provides, since it is equated to marihuana...

" Esta hierba recobra su uso como agente inspirador al ser un substituto fumable legal.
Forma de empleo:  si es fumada su psicoactividad es del estilo de la marihuana. Se emplea sola o con mezclas fumables con otras hierbas relajantes.
La infusión es tan amarga que se necesita una gran voluntad para tomarla.
Como aparetivo se prepara una infusión con una cucharadita de té por taza.
Por su olor repelente, la planta finamente triturada se emplea espolvoreando el suelo y las plantas para detener a los insectos."

Planta perenne de tallos erguidos con hojas alternas pinnadas. Toda la planta está cubierta por una pelusilla. Los tallos están rematados por panículas de flores amarillas. Los frutos son aquenios.

Para uso medicinal se utilizan los tallos que se cortan a unos 30 cm del extremo superior. La principal sustancia activa es la tuyona, un jugo amargo, taninos, ácidos orgánicos y la absintina.

Se emplea en infusión para estimular el apetito, la secreción de jugos gástricos y biliares y para eliminar parásitos intestinales a razón de una o dos cucharaditas de tallos cortados por cada taza de agua. También se puede consumir en polvo a razón de 1 g tres veces al día.

La decocción de ajenjo se utiliza para gargarismos y en compresas para reducir contusiones. El aceite esencial se emplea para obtener una tintura que alivia los calambres y para preparar una bebida alcohólica. El consumo prolongado de ajenjo provoca adicción que se manifiesta por calambres, pérdida del conocimiento y convulsiones.



Ronald Hilton 2005

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last updated: April 16, 2005