s to absinthe are found in the Bible
, in Egypt
ian papyri and in early Syria
n texts. Originally, it was a simple composition of wine with wormwood
leaves soaked in it. Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a shrub native to Europe
(but not North America
). The name "absinthe" is derived
from the Greek
word "apsinthion", meaning "undrinkable", probably a reference to the bitter
flavour of the original beverage.
The drink is distinguished by its blue-green clarity from its chlorophyll content. Traditionally, it was served with water and a cube of sugar; the sugar cube was placed on an "absinthe spoon", and the liquor was drizzled over the sugar into the glass of water. The sugar helped take the bitter edge from the absinthe, and when poured into the water the liquor turned milky white, like the Greek ouzo, which has a similar anise flavour.
The active ingredient of wormwood is thujone, a neurotoxin, which has been proven identical to tanecetone in the herb tansy and salvanol in sage. Thujone has also been shown to have a very similiar molecular structure to THC.
During the European Middle Ages, absinthe was primarily valued as a cure for flatulence and to exterminate tapeworms in the abdomen while leaving the human host uninjured .
French soldiers fighting in Algeria in the 1840s drank absinthe as a preventative against malaria and other diseases. This sparked the first big surge in absinthe's popularity in France. In 1990 wormwood extracts were found to be as effective in supressing malaria as chloroquine.
Absinthe enjoyed a vogue during the Symbolist and Art Nouveau periods at the end of the 19th century. The head-aches, vomiting involuntary evacuation of the bowels, foaming at the mouth and other side effects of consuming more than merely medicinal dosages were interpreted according to the dogma of the suffering artist, the social revolutionary delving deep into the crevices of of his (usually his) grand epic tale of himself. Absinthe addiction became associated with several sensational criminal trials.
In 1906 Switzerland voted to ban absinthe. In 1907, to ban any imitators. In 1912 it was banned in the United States of America. In 1915 by France. It is still legal in Spain.