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The precise origin of absinthe is unclear. According to popular legend, absinthe began as an all-purpose patent remedy created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland, around 1792 (the exact date varies by account). Ordinaire's recipe was passed on to the Henriod sisters of Couvet, who sold absinthe as an elixir. In fact, by other accounts, the Henriod sisters may have already been making the liqueur before Ordinaire's arrival. In either case, one Major Dubied in turn acquired the formula from the sisters and, in 1797, with his son Marcellin and son-in-law Henry-Louis Pernod, opened the first absinthe distillery, Dubied Père et Fils, in Couvet. In 1805, they built a second distillery in Pontarlier, France, under the new company name, Maison Pernod Fils.
L'absinthe, by Edgar DegasAbsinthe's popularity grew steadily until the 1840's when absinthe was given to French troops as a fever preventative. When the troops returned home they brought their taste for absinthe with them and it became popular at bars and bistros.
By the 1860s, absinthe had become so popular that in most cafés and cabarets 5 p.m. signaled l'heure verte ("the green hour"). Still, it remained expensive and was favored mainly by the bourgeoisie and eccentric bohemian artists. By the 1880s, however, the price had dropped significantly, the market expanded, and absinthe soon become the drink of France. By 1910, the French were consuming 36 million liters of absinthe per year.
Spurred by the temperance movement and winemakers' associations, absinthe was publicized in connection with several violent crimes supposedly committed under the direct influence of the drink, and along with a general tendency toward hard liquor consumption due to the wine shortage in France during the 1880s and 1890s, effectively labelled absinthe's popularity as a social menace. Its critics said that it makes people crazy and criminal, it turns men into brutes and threatens the future of our times. Edgar Degas's 1876 painting, L'absinthe (The Absinthe Drinkers) (now at the Musée d'Orsay) epitomized the popular view of absinthe "addicts" as sodden and benumbed; Emile Zola described their serious intoxication in his novel L'Assommoir. Absinthe was banned from sale and production in most countries by 1915.
The prohibition of absinthe in France led to the growing popularity of pastis and ouzo, other anise-flavored liqueurs that do not use wormwood.
Still, those who indulged in the green fairy, adored her, and wrote many words to her praise ....I liked this one the best:
by Ernest Dowson
"Green changed to white, emerald to opal;
nothing was changed.
The man let the water trickle gentle into his glass,
and as the green clouded,
a mist fell from his mind.
Then he drank opaline.
Memories and terrors beset him.
The past tore after him like a panther, and
through the blackness of the present he
saw the luminous tiger eyes of things to be.
But he drank opaline.
And that obscure night of the soul,
and the valley of humiliation,through
which he stumbled, were forgotten.
He saw blue vistas of undiscovered countries,
high prospects and a quiet, carressing sea.
The past shed its perfume over him,
today held his hand as if it were a little child,
and tomorrow shone like a white star;
nothing was changed.
He drank opaline.
The man had known the obscure night of the soul,
and lay even now in the valley of humiliation;
and the tiger menace of the things to be was red in the skies.
But for a little while he had forgotten.
Green changed to white, emerald to opal;
nothing was changed."
The Common Wormwood held a high reputation in medicine among the Ancients. Tusser (1577), in July's Husbandry, says:
'While Wormwood hath seed get a handful or twaine
To save against March, to make flea to refraine:
Where chamber is sweeped and Wormwood is strowne,
What saver is better (if physick be true)
For places infected than Wormwood and Rue?
It is a comfort for hart and the braine
And therefore to have it it is not in vaine.'
Besides being strewn in chambers as Tusser recommended, it used to be laid amongstuffs and furs to keep away moths and insects.
According to the Ancients, Wormwood counteracted the effects of poisoning by hemlock, toadstools and the biting of the seadragon. The plant was of some importance among the Mexicans, who celebrated their great festival of the Goddess of Salt by a ceremonial dance of women, who wore on their heads garlands of Wormwood.
With the exception of Rue, Wormwood is the bitterest herb known, but it is very wholesome and used to be in much request by brewers for use instead of hops. The leaves resist putrefaction, and have been on that account a principal ingredient in antiseptic fomentations.
An Old Love Charm
'On St. Luke's Day, take marigold flowers, a sprig of marjoram, thyme, and a little Wormwood; dry them before a fire, rub them to powder; then sift it through a fine piece of lawn, and simmer it over a slow fire, adding a small quantity of virgin honey, and vinegar. Anoint yourself with this when you go to bed, saying the following lines three times, and you will dream of your partner "that is to be":
"St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me,
In dreams let me my true-love see." '
Culpepper, writing of the three Wormwoods most in use, the Common Wormwood, Sea Wormwood and Roman Wormwood, tells us: 'Each kind has its particular virtues' . . . the Common Wormwood is 'the strongest,' the Sea Wormwood, 'the second in bitterness,' whereas the Roman Wormwood, 'to be found in botanic gardens' - the first two being wild - 'joins a great deal of aromatic flavour with but little bitterness.'
The Common Wormwood grows on roadsides and waste places, and is found over the greater part of Europe and Siberia, having been formerly much cultivated for its qualities. In Britain, it appears to be truly indigenous near the sea and locally in many other parts of England and Scotland, from Forfar southwards. In Ireland it is a doubtful native. It has become naturalized in the United States.
Although there were many manufacturers of absinthe around the turn of the century, pernod was the most famous, and their recipe probably contained the following:
anise (Pimpinella ansium)
hyssop (hyssopus officinalis)
dittany (Dictamnus albus)
sweet flag (Acorus calamus)
Melissa (kind of mint)
and varying amounts of: coriander, veronica, camomile, parsley, and even spinach
".....For anyone familiar with late nineteeth century French
litterature Absinthe posseses a very special mystique, since it looks
like just every French writer of the time was hooked on it. I had
always been wondering if the effects of Absinthe were due mainly to
the high alcool content, of if there was anything specific. The fact
that the main active ingredient, Thujone, is listed a toxic convulsant
made me somewhat apprehensive.
I drank a total of 3 ounces of absinthe that night. The taste is
strongly aromatic and the mouth gets completely numb when drinking it.
The procedure for drinking is to mix the absinthe with water. It then
turns milky white.
After a few minutes of the first glass I could feel a
undistinct feeling of warmth and a rather pleasant buzz. The two more
glasses that I drank afterwards completely convinced me that the
effect of absinthe has little to do with alcool. After 3 ounces I was
experiencing a strong buzz, somewhat similar to a long lasting nitrous
oxide experience, minus the auditory disturbances. Duration was about
an hour, with a 30 minutes peak. The effect was extremely pleasant,
although I would not list absinthe as a psychedelic. It definitely
belongs in terms of subjective effects to the solvent/nitrous oxide
category, although pharmacologically very different. The following day
I felt very lethargic, but it is hard to say if it was due to the
absinthe since we stayed up pretty late that night.
My conclusion: I give it two thumbs up, but would not drink it
more than occasionally since it is reported as neurotoxic. Try it out
if ever you go to Andorre."
Pierre St Hilaire
MIT Media Lab