Category Archives: wormwood

Was pre-ban absinthe bitter?

Bitter and Twisted

Certainly not! According to the Wormwood Society’s patronising dictat the following is the case:

It is not as bitter as its reputation suggests, and never has been, as can be attested by those who have tasted pre-ban absinthe. The extermely bitter idea is a modern one, most likely springing from modern attempts to make absinthe without knowing how it was suppossed to taste: raw, undistilled wormwood is the second most bitter botanical known.

According to another equally censorious source (Oxygenee Ltd):

The legend that the French sat at café tables by the thousands sugaring their absinthe to kill its nasty bitterness is due entirely to ignorance propounded by people who’ve never tasted absinthe, and assumed it must be bitter because there’s wormwood in it.

Those pre ban bottles of absinthe have certainly proved useful to the lucky few in deciding exactly what absinthe tasted like – and it’s very good of them to share their knowledge – albeit in a rather brusque manner. Extermely good 🙂

But wait – the spelling might not be the only error in Mr. Gwydion Stone‘s article – if we look at other American sources we see a completely different story:

Absinthe, according to the Century Dictionary, is ‘the common name of a highly aromatic liqueur of an opaline-green color and bitter taste,‘ and is prepared by ‘steeping in alcohol or strong spirit bitter herbs,’ the chief of them being wormwood. It was not denied that it is bitter, that it is used as a beverage, and is not a proprietary preparation. It appeared that the wormwood ‘has a medicianl effect upon the human system as a tonic,’ and that the article contains anisette, a cordial. On the other hand, Boonekamp bitters is a proprietary preparation, recommended to the public as such, and, as prepared according to a private formula, as a remedy for certain specific maladies. The label is duly registered at the patent office. There was evidence tending to show that it contains rhubarb, orange peel, turmeric, and an essential oil, probably oil of anise;

Source: U.S. Supreme Court ERHARDT v. STEINHARDT, 153 U.S. 177 (1894)

Then we have the words of one real absinthe drinker from the Belle Epoque, who descibes the “acrid odor of absinthe” (Paul Verlaine) and his companion says thus:

See the savage Bitters
Rolling down from high mountains!
Wise pilgrims, let us reach
The green-pillared Absinthe…

Arthur Rimabud.

Was pre-ban absinthe bitter? did pre-ban absinthe contain high levels of thujone? Testing bottles of absinthe from the Belle Epoque – which have undergone the process known as feuille morte (dead leaf) – isn’t going to answer the question. Contemporary reports from the era seem a more sensible source than the thunderous condescension of the modern absinthe clique.

Did pre-ban absinthe cause hallucinations as the medics of the age claimed. Let’s ask a very distinguished Englishman in France, Mr Charles Dickens!

Moustachiod men lean over my shoulder and shake pencils at their opposite neighbours fiercely. Seedy men sit silent in corners; prosperous speculators pay with shining gold. Shreiks of vingt-cinq, trente, quatre-vingt-cinq are bandied about like insults. It is the old under Capel Court Inferno with a few moustaches, some plate-glass, and a ribbon or two of the Legion of Honour; as I finish my absinthe in the din, I seem to see a Golden Calf on the marble, plate covered counter, very rampant indeed.

Household World: A Weekly Journal by Charles Dickens (circa 1850)

No Green Fairy – but a Golden Calf instead 😉

Legal News

William Hogarth

 

  • Philip Philips , of St. Gregory’s, was indicted for stealing a Silver Spoon, and 12 Shillings in Money, from the Person of Elizabeth Booth , on the 28th of Feb. last.

The Prosecutor depos’d, That the Prisoner and another Person came to her House on the Day aforesaid, and drank a considerable Quantity of Gin and Wormwood, which raising the Prisoner to a more than ordinary Elevation, he offered Rudeness to her, and perswading her over the Way to his own House, would there have been more familiar than her Modesty would admit of; after this he came home to her House. again, and continued his Rudeness, insomuch that the Prosecutor lost her Pocket and the Money mentioned in the Indictment: But it appearing to the Court that his Design was only on her Charity, and not on her Property, the Jury acquitted him

Old Bailey 5th July, 1727

  • George Deportal , was indicted for stealing on the 17th of Oct. 1 cask fill’d with spirituous liquors called wormwood cordial, value 10 s. 1 cask of plague water, val. 10 s. 1 of brandy, val. 8 s. 1 of rum, val. 8 s. the goods of Noah Bernard . Acquitted

Old Bailey 9th December, 1747.

In the archive there is also the very sad tale of one Catherine Townsend who died August 26th 1718. The court heard how previously she had “teach’d her self a Pint of All-fours (i.e. Carraways, Wormwood, Angelico and Anniseed Water) which she drank, and afterwards let down he Stairs”

Basil & Wormwood

Ivan

A 16th Century Russian medic at the court of Tsar Basil III prescribes the use of wormwood. (see details below) Wormwood comes in many forms, and it is unclear if the writer means grande wormwood, as used in real absinthe, or another variety.

What is interesting is to see the writer mention wormwood use in conception (could be a translation error). Is this an early reference to absinthe’s noted aphrodisiac effect? I don’t know, but it got me thinking. Tsar Basil certainly had problems producing an heir – he divorced his first wife as she was barren. His second wife later managed to produce a little darling called Ivan The Terrible! Ivan went on to beat his daugher in law causing a miscarriage, and then killed his own son.

Many people think that knowledge of herbs were much deeper in ancient times, that we have lost many secrets, is that right?

It is partly right. For instance modern physicians advice to take wormwood liqueur to improve appetite and stir up digestion. Nickolay Lubchanin advises to take wormwood juice with honey and sugar to those suffering from fever. To improve blood composition one must boil wormwood in wine and take it on an empty stomach in the morning.

Another prescription is for ill eyes and eyelids: one must mix up wormwood juice with honey and smear one’s eyelids for “the eyes to become light”. If one drinks this compound, according to Nickolay Lubchanin, it helps conception. Wormwood juice was considered more useful than herb extract. Here is the analogue of modern popular “liver cleaning”: drink wormwood juice ten days running 3 zolotniks (1 zolotnik is equal to about 4,23 gram) mixed with sugar. It will give one a good skin colour.

Dr. Tatyana Isachenko talking to Pravda about a manuscript by Nickolay Lubchanin (1534)

Lucid reply on thujone in absinthe?


Thujone Free Absinthe

Thujone free fee verte? It’s been tried before and is nothing new, but they didn’t call it absinthe! Here’s the long awaited comment from Lucid:

What is the difference between Grande Wormwood and Southernwood (or Southern Wormwood)?

Lucid contains a full measure of Grande Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). By contrast, other products with a claimed relationship to Absinthe contain Southernwood (Artemisia Abrotanum – sometimes referred to as Southern Wormwood). Southernwood bears little resemblance to Grande Wormwood and has a completely different flavor and chemistry. Genuine Absinthe, such as the Absinthe made during the Belle Époque period in France, has always been made with Grande Wormwood as a key ingredient. In fact, the word “Absinthe” itself is derived from the scientific name for Grande Wormwood- Artemisia absinthium.

How were you able legally to import Lucid into the US if Wormwood is illegal?

Wormwood is not illegal as long as the finished product meets applicable standards for content. We found that by adhering to the strict techniques used over a century ago, the result was not only a genuine, historically accurate product, but a product that also happens to meet US requirements relating to alcoholic beverages.
Is Wormwood responsible for hallucinations or is this a myth?

The reputation of Wormwood as a hallucinogen is largely based on the politically motivated publicity that was given to Thujone, a chemical contained in Wormwood, back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. However, modern studies have conclusively demonstrated that humans are unable to detect (or experience any effects from) the presence of Thujone when consumed in test samples containing relevant concentrations. Moreover, thanks to T.A. Breaux’s modern testing of vintage bottles of Absinthe from over 100 years ago, we now know that, just as with Lucid, most of the high quality Absinthes from the 1800’s would meet today’s US standards for content, further discrediting the theory that Thujone had any real relevance to the Absinthe experience. In any event, we believe that if you consume Lucid responsibly and in moderation, there should be no unusual effects.
Does Lucid contain Thujone?

Lucid has been tested and it meets US and EU standards for content. It is worth noting that using modern equipment, T.A. Breaux, the distiller of Lucid, has analyzed dozens of bottles of traditional, high-quality vintage Absinthe from the Belle Époque period and has determined that quality Absinthe that was properly made typically did not have any significant Thujone content- even 100 years ago.

🙂 Hmm…are you thinking what I’m thinking? This is all based upon one serious report made by Dr Dirk Lachenmeier and an extract follows:

Habitual abuse of the wormwood spirit absinthe was described in the 19th and 20th centuries as a cause for the mental disorder ‘‘absinthism’’ including the symptoms hallucinations, sleeplessness and convulsions.

A controversial discussion is going on if thujone, a characteristic component of the essential oil of the wormwood plant Artemisia absinthium L., is responsible for absinthism, or if it was merely caused by chronic alcohol intoxication or by other reasons such as food adulterations. To ascertain if thujone may have caused absinthism, absinthes were produced according to historic recipes of the 19th century. Commercial wormwood herbs of two different manufacturers, as well as self-cultivated ones, were used in a concentration of 6 kg/100 l spirit. In addition, an authentic vintage Pernod absinthe from Tarragona (1930), and two absinthes from traditional small distilleries of the Swiss Val-de-Travers were evaluated. A GC–MS procedure was applied for the analysis of a- and b-thujone with cyclodecanone as internal standard. The method was shown to be sensitive with a LOD of 0.08 mg/l.The precision was between 1.6 and 2.3%, linearity was obtained from 0.1 to 40 mg/l (r = 1.000).

After the recent annulment of the absinthe prohibition all analysed products showed a thujone concentration below the maximum limit of 35 mg/l, including the absinthes produced according to historic recipes, which did not contain any detectable or only relatively low concentrations of thujone (mean: 1.3 Æ 1.6 mg/l, range: 0–4.3 mg/l). Interestingly, the vintage absinthe also showed a relatively low thujone concentration of 1.8 mg/l. The Val-de-Travers absinthes contained 9.4 and 1.7 mg/l of thujone.

In conclusion, thujone concentrations as high as 260 mg/l, reported in the 19th century, cannot be confirmed by our study. With regard to their thujone concentrations, the hallucinogenic potential of vintage absinthes can be assessed being rather lowbecause the historic products also comply with today’s maximum limits derived to exclude such effects. It may be deduced that thujone plays none, or only a minor role in the clinical picture of absinthism.

Quite a deduction based upon 3 old bottles and a re run using traditional absinthe recipes! An interesting question would be how these absinthes, that were supplied to Dr Lachenmeier, were produced, and by whom. According to Lucid, a skilled distiller like Ted Breaux is perfectly able to produce an absinthe which does not register thujone content when the FDA test is applied. The distiller knows that using particular parts of the plant, harvesting time and climatic conditions have a dramatic effect upon thujone content in artemisia absinthium. Dr Lachmeier should also consider the effects of time on the thujone molecule in those pre ban bottles.

Wormwood, Absinthe & Alchemy

Absinthium

Following on from our discussion about alchemy at the Prague court of Rudoplh II :

AQUA CELESTIS IS MADE THUS

Take of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmegs, zedoary, galangal, long pepper, citron pill, spikenard, lignum aloes, cububs, cardamum, calamus aromaticus, germander, ground pine, mace, white frankincense, tormentil, hermodactyls, the pith of dwarf elder, juniper berries, bay berries, the seeds and flowers of motherwort, the seeds of smallage, the seeds of fennel, seeds of anise, the leaves of sorrel, the leaves of sage, the leaves of felwort, rosemary, marJoram, mints, pennyroyal, stechados, the flowers of elder, the flowers of red roses, the flowers of white roses, of the leaves of scabious, rue, the lesser moonwort, agrimony, centory, fumitory, pimpernel, sow thistle, eyebright, maidenhair, endive, red launders, aloes – of each two ounces, pure amber, the best rhubarb – of each two drams, dried figs, raisins of the sun, stoned dates, sweet almonds, grains of the pine – of each an ounce. Of the best aqua vitae to the quantity of them all, of the best hard sugar a pound, of white honey half a pound. Then add the root of gentian, flowers of rosemary, pepperwort, the root of briony, sow bread, wormwood – of each half an ounce. Now before these are distilled, quench gold being made red hot, oftentimes in the aforesaid water, put therein oriental pearls beaten small an ounce, and then distill it after 24 hours infusion.

This is a very cordial water, good against faintings and infection.

Source: The Art of Distillation by John French Printed by Richard Cotes and are to sold by Thomas Williams at the Bible in Little-Britain without Aldersgate, 1651.

This is basically an alchemist text described as “A Treatise of the Choicest Spagyrical Preparations Performed by Way of Distillation, Being Partly Taken Out of the Most Select Chemical Authors of the Diverse I,anguages and Partly Out of the Author’s Manual Experience together with, The Description of the Chiefest Furnaces and Vessels Used by Ancient and Modern Chemists”

Aqua celestis, or heavenly water, was a medicinal distilled alcoholic beverage, but frequently used by alchemists in their laboratory experiments. It contains the so called “Holy Trinity” prescribed by the new breed of modern day absinthe autocrats at their online kingdoms – fennel, anise and wormwood.

Previously another English alchemist and mathematician Dr. John Dee and fellow alchemist Edward Kelley had spent several eventful years in Bohemia, arriving as early as 1584, and staying with Tadeus Hajek in Prague. It was Hajek that introduced them to Rudolf II, and Kelley went on to work in the royal laboratories.

Four years after the duo arrived in Prague, Jakobus Theodorus Tabernaemontanus set down the principles for Absinthe (in German: wermuth) in his “Neu vollkommen Kräuter-Buch” published in 1588. See: Absinthites seu Absinthiacum vinum. Pages 11-12.