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Absinthe - Green Fairy or Green Devil?
By Joan Whetzel
Absinthe is an interesting and captivating name for a unique liqueur which gets its name from the herb Artemsia Absinthium (wormwood). This herb gives Absinthe its distinctive licorice flavor.
The herb, Artmisia Abinthium, is native the Eastern North American continent. It consists of multiple flowers that grow in a head and silvery, smooth leaves which produce a licorice flavor, much like the anise seed. In fact, Absinthe is made not only from Artemisia Abinthium, but also with fennel, anise, hyssop and Melissa. The recipe for Absinthe varies depending on the 50 or companies that produce it, though they will all have a licorice flavor and be emerald green in color (from the addition of chlorophyll). Absinthe is usually 90 to 144 proof.
This drink became popular in the late 19th century among the French bohemian writers, artists, and intellectuals. The attraction spread to other countries, where it soon became known as the Green Fairy. Eventually, Absinthe found a home in the United States, becoming one of the most favored drinks in New Orleans.
Writers and Absinthe
Writers, especially poets, have long been enamored with Absinthe. The liqueur has is claimed to have the ability to free up the writer’s muses. One of O. Henry’s short stories – Cherchez La Femme – told the story of a couple of writers who make a regular practice of drinking Absinthe in one of New Orleans’ bohemian style café’s. A poem, by Peggy Amond, memorializes Absinthe in verse in her poem Rimbaud’s Poison (1998).
The emerald hour--
when the poet's pain is soothed
by a liquid jewel
held in the sacred chalice,
upon which rests
the pierced spoon,
the crystal sweetness--
Icy streams trickle down.
The darkest forest
melts into an open meadow
as waves of green seduce.
the soul spirals toward
the murky depths,
the beautiful madness--
Preparing Absinthe as a Cocktail
Traditionally, there are three ways to prepare Absinthe.
- Neat. Straight up, with no ice, water, spritzer, or another additions. This way can be hard for some to swallow since Absinthe has such a high alcohol content.
- With Fire. This requires the use of a specially slotted spoon in which holds a couple of sugar cubes soaked in Absinthe. The cubes are then set on fire. Another way to serve this is to set a match to a glass of Absinthe. Of course, this method of preparation burns off most of the alcohol, and all of the mind-bending effects it is supposed to have – allegedly produced by the herbs used to make it.
- La Louche (with water). The original method for serving Absinthe is to pour the liqueur into a glass. Then 2 sugar cubes are placed on the specially slotted spoon which is rested on top of the Absinthe glass. Then an ounce or two of ice cold water is sprinkled over the sugar cubes, slowly dissolving them. Sugar water drips through the slots in the spoon and into the Absinthe, turning the liqueur milky, more like jade than emeralds. It changes the flavor slightly from plain licorice to something resembling a licorice jelly bean.
The Banning of Absinthe
The La Louche process supposedly releases some of the natural oils produced by the herbs used to make Absinthe. The natural oils are said to be a stimulant for the brain and senses as well as to awaken the creativity center of the brain. One of the chemicals in the Artmisia Abinthium, known as thujone, gives off a menthol fragrance and produces an effect on the brain’s GABA or 5HT3 receptors. This action is thought to be something like the psychedelic effect of LSD or other similar drugs. The thujone levels are so tiny, though that a person would be poisoned by alcohol intoxication long before receiving enough thujone to go on a psychedelic trip. Besides, most experts believe that the fabled effects are more due to the alcohol than anything else.
Absinthe became one of the first to get canned thanks to the temperance movement and the banning of alcohol due to the passing of an amendment to the US Constitution. The banning of Absinthe spread to Europe because of the rumored mental effects of the liqueur and the social problems for which it was blamed. As the Green Fairy became known as the “green devil” in the early 20th century manufacturers discontinued the making of Absinthe, with the exception of a few manufacturers in Britain, Spain and the Czech Republic.
Consumption of Absinthe dropped severely for about a century, before making a comeback in the early 21st century. Most countries in Europe, began allowing sales and consumption of the drink again. It wasn’t until 2007 that the US again allowed the manufacturing and distribution of Absinthe. The sales and consumption of the Green Fairy are growing again, though the negative image associated with Absinthe still linger.
Does Absinthe contains the supposed psychedelic effects associated with it? Well that may in truth be little more than propaganda. Many who have tried it swear by its ability to make them more creative and because of the high it supposedly gives them. So it becomes merely a debate over the question: Do people believe it because it’s true, or is it true because people believe it?
American Heritage Dictionary. Absinthe.
Absinthe Fever. What Is Absinthe?
Absinthe Fever. La Louche: The Original Absinthe Ritual.
About Absinthe in New Orleans. What is Absinthe?