It has been said that absinthe makes people go mad, blind, epileptic, and apparently it could even infect you with tuberculosis or turn you into a criminal.
This is all nonsense, of course, but there has to be a reason why that many people believe in those myths. Absinthe was very popular in the 1800s. There was a broad range of different absinthes available – some where sincere, honest products, some were cheap, badly made products that shouldn’t even have entered the market. They were made with methanol and were seriously dangerous for the human body. A similar problem was caused in the United States during Prohibition. Unregulated and untested alcohol can lead to serious problems when people take advantage of the situation for profit.
Determining between toxic, cheap and often dangerous copies of absinthe and true absinthe must have been extremely difficult for both the society and the government of the 19th Century. However, real absinthe, consumed moderately of course, is only as harmful as any other alcoholic spirit.
In order to be a true absinthe, it must contain grande wormwood, anise, and fennel. It must also be distilled, not artificially colored or sweetened, and not have any herbs floating. Absinthia Organic Absinthe meets these requirements. Our blanche simply uses grande wormwood, anise, fennel, and coriander, based on vintage Swiss recipes.
Below is a list of common herbs that can be used to make absinthe. The principal herbs or botanicals are grande wormwood, green anise, and fennel. Botanicals such as petite wormwood, hyssop and melissa give absinthe its green color. Many of the herbs used to make absinthe can be cultivated in climates that are similar to that of the Mediterranean.
Latin: Artemisia absinthium. It is a member of the daisy family Compositae (Asteraceae).
Is is also called grande wormwood or common wormwood.
Use: Source of thujone and absinthe’s bitterness.
Latin: Pimpinella anisum. It is a member of the Apiaceae family.
It is also called aniseed.
Use: Gives absinthe its licorice flavor. Counters absinthe bitterness. Helps to promote the absinthe louche.
Latin: Foeniculum vulgare. It is a member of the Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) family.
Use: Give absinthe its fennel and licorice flavor. Helps to counters absinthe bitterness. Helps promote the absinthe louche.
Latin: Coriandrum sativum – It is an annual herb in the Apiaceae family.
Use: Gives absinthe a citrus spiciness.
Latin: Angelica archangelica (or A. litoralis) It is a member of the Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) family.
Use: Counters absinthe bitterness.
Latin: Hyssopus officinalis – It is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) family.
Use: Adds freshness, and produces the green color common in most absinthe.
Latin: Illicuim verum (also Illicuim floridanum and several other species) – It is a member of the magnolia family, Magnoiliaceae (also Illiaceae).
Use: Counters absinthe bitterness, enhances the louche.
Latin: Mentha x piperita – It is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) family.
Use: Adds minty freshness, and produces a vibrant green color if used to color absinthe.
Very easy groundcover to cultivate. It can become quite invasive in the garden if left alone.
Latin: Inula Heleniumis – It is a perennial composite plant common in many parts of Great Britain. It is also called horse-heal or marchalan.
Use: It adds a camphoraceous aroma and adds a pungent and bitter taste to adsinthe.
Latin: Origanum dictamnus – It is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) family
Use: Provides a sweet-herbal taste with hints of sage and peppermint.
Easy to grow, the same genus as oregano.
Latin: Artemisia pontica.
Also known as Roman Wormwood or small wormwood.
Use: Wormwood aromatic, mild bitterness and for coloring absinthe green.
Latin: Hyssopus officinalis – It is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) family.
Use: Adds freshness. Typically used for coloring absinthe green.
Latin: Melissa officinalis – It is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) family.
Use: Used to add a lemon/citrus flavor and for coloring absinthe green.
In the late 1800s, grape stock prices reached an all-time high, and wine was in short supply. The poor and the middle-class turned to absinthe as a cheaper alternative. Some might even say that the wide spread outbreak of phylloxera and its devastation of the French grape vines is responsible for the success of absinthe….and ultimately it’s criminalization.
Phylloxera was without a doubt the greatest threat to vineyards. Inadvertently imported to England and France on nursery stock between 1854 and 1860, the insects quickly invaded nonresistant Vitis vinifera grape wines throughout Europe. By the end of the 19th century, grape phylloxera had destroyed two-thirds of the vineyards on the continent. When it was discovered, it was called Phylloxera vastatrix – “the devastating louse”.
During the Algier War (1844-1847), the French Army made use of the medical effects of absinthe and provided the soldiers with regular rations of the liquor. When the soldiers return home to France after the war, wine was scarce and expensive due to the devastating effect of phylloxera. The veterans who had survived the war had a taste for absinthe and production had to be increased to keep up with the demand. Absinthe distilleries started to spread all over France like mushrooms.
Grape phylloxera is a tiny aphidlike insect that feeds on Vitis vinifera grape roots, stunting growth of vines or killing them. Grape phylloxera damage the root systems of grapevines by feeding on the root, either on growing rootlets, which then swell and turn yellowish, or on mature hardened roots where the swellings are often hard to see. The majority of grape phylloxera adults are wingless females. They are generally oval shaped, but egg layers are pear shaped. They are small (0.04 inch long and 0.02 inch wide) and vary in color from yellow, yellowish green, olive green, to light brown, brown, or orange. Newly deposited eggs are yellow, oval, and about twice as long as wide. Nymphs resemble adults except they are smaller. The losses suffered in France as a result of the phylloxera invasion in the 1860s was considered being greater than the total cost to the French of the Franco-Prussian war. Over 2000 hectares of vineyard were wiped out in France before the reconstruction on phylloxera-resistant rootstocks began.
In the U.S., thujone levels in absinthe are capped at 10 milligrams per liter, while absinthe in Europe may have 35 milligrams per liter. Modern science has estimated that a person drinking absinthe would die from alcohol poisoning long before he or she were affected by the thujone. And there is no evidence at all that thujone can cause hallucinations, even in high doses. We now know that properly manufactured absinthe — an anise-flavored, alcoholic drink — is no more dangerous than any other properly prepared liquor.
The chemical that’s taken all the blame for absinthe’s hallucinogenic reputation is called thujone, which is a component of wormwood. In very high doses, thujone can be toxic. It is a GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) inhibitor, meaning it blocks GABA receptors in the brain, which can cause convulsions if you ingest enough of it. It occurs naturally in many foods, but never in doses high enough to hurt you. And there’s not enough thujone in absinthe to hurt you, either. By the end of the distillation process, there is very little thujone left in the product.
Traditional absinthe is made of anise, fennel and wormwood (a plant), and various recipes add other herbs and flowers to the mix. The anise, fennel and wormwood are soaked in alcohol, and the mixture is then distilled. The distillation process causes the herbal oils and the alcohol to evaporate, separating from the water and bitter essences released by the herbs. The fennel, anise and wormwood oils then recondense with the alcohol in a cooling area, and the distiller dilutes the resulting liquid down to whatever proof the absinthe is supposed to be (based on brand variations or regional laws). At this point, the absinthe is clear; many manufacturers add herbs to the mixture after distillation to get the classic green color from their chlorophyll.
What about the tales of hallucinations, Oscar Wilde and his tulips, family massacres and instant death? Not absinthe’s fault, technically speaking. Absinthe does have a very high alcohol content — anywhere between 55 and 75 percent alcohol by volume, which equates to about 110 to 144 proof. It makes whiskey’s standard 40 percent (80 proof) seem like child’s play, which is why absinthe is supposed to be diluted. Absinthe is not a hallucinogen; rather its alcohol content and herbal flavor set it apart from other liquors.
Nowhere in Edgar Allen Poe’s Wikipedia page does it mention absinthe. Absinthia is not sure how popular or readily available it would have been for him, a starving writer in Maryland in the early 1800s.
“He died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849, at age 40. The cause of his death is unknown and has been variously attributed to disease, alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, and other causes.”