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By Witchipedia, Herbs

Absinthe: History & Modern Days

Updated on:

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)

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Reviewed by: Tina Caro

Absinthe is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from wormwood, anise, fennel, and other herbs. Absinthe is a very strong alcoholic beverage that is usually diluted with ice water and melted sugar before drinking.

In good quality absinthe, with actual plant oils, ice water makes the absinthe turn from green (or sometimes dark brown) to milky white. The oils are fats that solidify when exposed to cold temperatures.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Absinthe, a green-hued alcoholic beverage, has a rich and controversial history, dating back to the late 18th century in Switzerland.

Its reputation as a mind-altering and dangerous drink was largely due to the presence of wormwood, which contains thujone, a compound believed to be psychoactive.

The “Green Fairy” gained popularity among artists and writers in the 19th century, including famous figures like Vincent van Gogh and Oscar Wilde, who were known to consume it.

Absinthe was banned in several countries, including the United States and many European nations.

History of Absinthe

The absinthe drinking craze in the mid-1800s caused the quality of the drink to decline. When it was first produced it was a holy bitter aperitif (like to vermouth and chartreuse) related to good health. It was supposed to stimulate the imaginative faculties as well as the spiritual faculties and to facilitate one’s power of transformation.

YearEvent
18th CenturyEarly development of absinthe as a medicinal elixir
19th CenturyRise in popularity in France and Europe
1915Ban on absinthe in several countries
1990sReintroduction and revival of absinthe
PresentCurrent legal status and global popularity
Table 1: Key Historical Events of Absinthe

Many artists, poets, and visionaries of the time were absinthe-drinkers; one of the most famous is Aleister Crowley.

Unfortunately, the sheer number of herbs in absinthe and the public’s demand that the drink be green when food coloring was entering its early stages of development caused a steady decline in quality. It soon became difficult to find true absinthe and some of the fakes were near toxic.

The naturalization of North American herbs in Europe (especially France) that were most probably mistaken for other herbs that were supposed to be included in the recipe, and the addition of poisonous copper sulfate to lend the drink a bright green hue turned the green fairy into the green devil for many people. The sugar cubes fashionably placed on top of the absinthe at the time might have been cut with liquid opium or cocaine as well.

Prohibition in the western world existed in the United States and some parts of Europe as a largely Christian movement to purify the body and protect virtue. Prohibitionists wanted to do away with alcohol, cocaine, white sugar, coffee, opium, and prostitution. That list is in no particular order except that the first three are associated with absinthe, which was a favorite of the prohibitionists. It was thought to be a substance that could destroy the mind, making the virtuous into sinners, making the sane become mad.

Absinthe in Modern Days

Absinthe is purported to be highly addictive and to have psychoactive properties, commonly believed to be caused by the thujone content, from the wormwood, although it only contains trace amounts.

Absinthe was banned in the US and parts of Europe due to its reputation but has enjoyed a revival since the 1990s when the European Union adopted new food and beverage laws. While it is illegal to import any alcoholic beverage containing wormwood or thujone into the United States and the FDA does not allow wormwood in any product to be sold for human consumption, absinthe has returned to the liquor store and bar shelves, it simply lacks its signature thujone.

IngredientDescription
WormwoodContains the chemical compound thujone
AniseContributes to the distinct licorice flavor
FennelAdds a subtle herbal and sweet taste
Other HerbsMay include hyssop, lemon balm, or angelica root
AlcoholHigh-proof base spirit typically made from grapes
Table 2: Ingredients of Traditional Absinthe

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About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

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