Morgan Botanicals

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Absinthe: It's Just A Pretty Way Of Saying Wormwood

Jessica Morgan, M.H.“A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world, what difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset.” - Oscar Wilde


I tend to have interest in anything historical and/or herb related and I'm a great fan of herbal liqures, wines, beers, sodas etc. I’ve made beer, I’ve made wine, I’m working on sodas and I’m intrigued by liquors. I’ll probably never make this but non-the-less very interested by the medicinal history. I’m also deeply intrigued by some of our most controversial and self-impoverished artists, writers, poets, musicians, free-thinkers, and the like and find it fascinating that this herbal drink was the "beaverage du jour" or drink of choice among these great thinkers in the mid to late 19th century. It inspired many and appeared in works by Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh, it was drank by the scandalous playwright Oscar Wilde, the eccentric Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the poets Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allen Poe, and the famous 20th century author Ernest Hemingway, just to mention a few....intriguing right? I’d say so.


In French, the word "absinthe" simply means "wormwood" and was considered a vivifying elixir long before it could be ordered in a cafe. When Madame de Coulanges, one of the leading ladies of the seventeenth-century French court, became ill, she was prescribed a preparation containing wormwood. When it calmed her stomach, she wrote to Madame de Sevigne, " My little absinthe is the remedy for all diseases."

But, well before all of that, Hippocrates was prescribing wormwood elixors for jaundice, rheumatism, anemia, and menstrual pains. Pythagoras recommended wormwood soaked in wine to aid labor in childbirth. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder called it apsinthium in the first century A.D. and noted that it was customary for the champion in chariot races to drink a cup of absinthe leaves soaked in wine to remind him that even glory has its bitter side. He also recommended it as an elixir of youth and as a cure for bad breath.


Over the centuries, however, wormwood elixors moved away from being just bitter medicine to quickly becaming a highly sought after social drink and a global phenomenon, to social poison. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Switzerland, distilled the wormwood plant in alcohol with anise, hyssop, lemon balm, and other local herbs. By 1905, there were hundreds of distilleries in all corners of France producing absinthe, with over 40 distilleries operating across the Swiss border. It’s  progress from medicine to social poison started with the military. It is said that the demand for absinthe rose dramatically after the Algerian War when the soldiers were given rations of absinthe along with their drinking water as a bacterial deterrent. The soldiers, now hooked on absinthe, began drinking it in peace time France, thus starting the first surge in absinthe popularity, and the popularity of this herbal liqueur lasted just over 100 years before falling into prohibition and then being resurrected again. Now, wormwood, not only an ingredient in absinthe, but is also used for flavouring in some other spirits and wines, including bitters, spice meads, vermouth and pelinkovac. 

 

"Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks. Great success shooting the knife into the piano. The woodworms are so bad and eat hell out of all furniture that you can always claim the woodworms did it." ~Ernest Hemingway

For more history and information:

The Wormwood Society

A non-profit educational and consumer advocacy organization focused on providing current, historically and scientifically accurate information about absinthe, the most maligned and misunderstood drink in history. http://wormwoodsociety.org/

La Fee Verte

The largest absinthe site on the web, very active forum, detailed buyers guide and FAQ.


The Virtual Absinthe Museum

The history and lore of absinthe, virtual museum of absinthe art and antiques, comprehensive absinthe historical FAQ. THE reference site for absinthe research.

As always, please email any questions to herbalist@morganbotanicals.com.

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Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Jessica Morgan, M. H., Morgan Botanicals.

Disclaimer - The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. You should not use the information in this article for self-diagnosis or to replace any prescriptive medication. You should consult with a health care professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem, suffer from allergies, are pregnant or nursing.

Jessica Morgan, M.H.



 
 
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