Absinthe has been the esoteric liqueur of choice of sorcerers for generations. Absinthe is a strong emerald green alcoholic liqueur made with the bitter herb wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). There are of course other herbs in the liqueur, it is however the wormwood that gives Absinthe a bitter taste. Wormwood, in ancient times was always a herb of magick with many helpful properties, such as the ability to call spirits and to provide protection and power. Wormwood though was also associated with a spiritual bitterness and was named after Queen Artemis of Caria, who suffered terrible grief at the loss of her husband, not the goddess Artemis, although she is the sacred goddess of the herb. Due to its bitterness, the ancient Greeks called wormwood, absinthe, which means without sweetness or undrinkable.
The most famous reference to Wormwood is from the Biblical chapter of Revelations:
“And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood, and the third part of the waters became wormwood, and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”
Biblical legend states that wormwood sprang up in the wake of the serpent’s tail as it left the Garden of Eden, as a barrier to prevent its return; thus, snakes are believed not to enter a garden where wormwood is growing. This spiritual bitterness is said to have represented loss, particularly in association with the giving up of attachments to various aspects of consensus reality. This practice was undertaken by those seeking the spiritual power and illumination that results from personal transformation.
Wormwood ale has been used since ancient times, but it was not until the early 1600’s that “wormwood water”, started to be produced in England, and following that the original Absinthe was invented in 1792 by French doctor, Pierre Ordinaire, who after fleeing from The French Revolution, came to settle in Switzerland. Most rural doctors in these days prepared their own herbal remedies for health, and Pierre being no exception, learnt some of the properties of wormwood from ancient manuscripts and began to experiment with it. Dr. Ordinaries’ recipe included the following herbs: wormwood, anise, hyssop, Dittany of Crete, sweet flag, melissa (lemon balm) and varying amounts of coriander, veronica, chamomile and parsley. The 136 proof elixir produced in his sixteen litre still became popular as a cure-all, and due to its peculiar effects on consciousness it was nicknamed La Fee Verte (The Green Faery). After his death, Dr. Ordinaire’s recipe was passed through various hands until it finally came to rest with another Frenchman named Pernod.
Henri-Louis Pernod opened the first Absinthe distillery in Switzerland in 1797, and following in 1805, he opened the first French absinthe factory, “Pernod Fils”, in Pontarlier, France. The original Absinthe recipe conceived by Pernod included anise, fennel, hyssop, melissa (lemon balm), angelica, star anise, Dittany of Crete, juniper, nutmeg, and veronica. At first, “Pernod Fils” had only two stills, but as business increased, a new factory was built.
Travelers and soldiers began to come to the still and soon word of Absinthe and its marvellous properties spread throughout France. Rations of Absinthe were given to the French soldiers for the treatment of bacterial infections during the Algerian War (1844-1847), and brought a taste for it back to France. It was also at this time, after Absinthe had received some popularity, that it became popular with the Bohemians and the wider artistic community as it was thought to stimulate creativity not to mention is curative and aphrodisiac like qualities. Absinthe is known to have inspired some of the greatest artistic and litarey minds of the past, such as Louis Letrac, the famous artists, who’s favourite drink was, “Le Earthquake” (The earthquake), which consists of 2 neat shots of Absinthe and 2 neat shots of a good quality conac, the drink is also referred to in France as “Le Terribl” (The Terrible).
The French bourgeoisie’s favourite drink at this time was also Absinthe, with the aristocracy celebrating the “l’heure verte,” the green hour. By the turn of the century, Absinthe had a daily production of 30,000 litres and was been distributed on an international basis. Unfortunately though on the 11th of August, 1901, “Pernod’s Fils”, was struck by lightning, and burned out of control for four days; afterward, it was quickly rebuilt and the flow of absinthe resumed.
Absinthe now had an international distribution and was soon been sold as the Green Opal, Herb Sainte and Milky Way, in New Orleans, home of Hoodoo, the Old Absinthe House at 240 Bourbon Street, was frequented by many famous people, including the pirate Jean Lafitt, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman and of course my friend and yours Aleister Crowley. Absinthe at the house in New Orleans was served in the traditional French manner: stationed along the long bar were marble fountains with ice cubes perched above the glasses on a slotted spoon. Absinthe Houses soon spread to San Francisco, Chicago and New York and Absinthe became one of the few alcoholic beverages that women were permitted to drink in public.
However as all people in authority don’t like nor respect the power of plant’s, Absinthe, in particular the wormwood component of it, was believed to produce a syndrome, called absinthism. Absinthism was characterized by addiction, epileptic attacks, delirium and hallucinations. Absinthism was actually caused by fake absinthe, which through the addition of poisonous additives such as copper sulphate (a chemical that was added to produce a green colour), and antimony trichloride (another chemical added to make the Absinthe turn white when water was added) trusted Absinthe become dangerous.
The Absinthism problems were only compounded when in 1870 a blight hit the vineyards, and manufacturers were forced to use industrial alcohol, made from beets and cereal instead of fruits. This type of alcohol required two distillations, and unscrupulous manufacturers sold impure ethanol (drinking alcohol) made with only one distillation. Thus, a rather toxic form of fake absinthe began to appear alongside of the real thing, and the health problems that resulted were blamed on the wormwood.
In 1905, Frenchman Jean LanFray murdered his wife after drinking two glasses of absinthe, and his trial was called the “Absinthe Murder” by the press. Crude experiments were performed, wherein large amounts of wormwood oil were injected into animals, resulting in convulsions; the fact that wormwood oil was never used in absinthe, and the quantities used represented more wormwood than any person could ever accumulate in their body, didn’t faze the critics. Absinthe was blamed for everything from dementia, criminality and degeneracy to epilepsy and tuberculosis. As a result, absinthe was banned in Switzerland shortly after Lan Fray’s trial. It was banned in France on 17 March 1915, and throughout most of Europe shortly thereafter. Since absinthe never caught on in Britain, it was never banned there. On July 25, 1912, the US Department of Agriculture issued Food Inspection Decision 147, which banned absinthe in the United States.
In our current times though, people are beginning to understand the power of plants and that most things that grow in the dirt, in the ground really can’t be made illegal and Absinthe is making a come back, you can find Absinthe in most Australian bottle shops now from $90 – $200.
HOW TO DRINK ABSINTHE
Although absinthe is sometimes drunk straight or in a variety of mixed drinks, the classic method of drinking it involves dribbling ice cold water over a sugar cube on a slotted spoon into a glass of absinthe (three to five parts water to absinthe). As the water hits the absinthe, the drink changes from a clear emerald color to an opaque, milky white. One then sips it slowly, relishing the clearing of the mind and the onset of a truly spiritual experience. Afterwards, the effects of the alcoholic content take hold.
There were several types of specialized absinthe drinking paraphernalia. The most famous one is the slotted spoon. The spoon sits on top of the glass, and the spoon’s holes serve to allow the water to carry the sugar into the glass. The six-ounce absinthe glass has a pattern, line or indentation part way up from the base of the glass to indicate the level of absinthe to be used. Typically, when the absinthe is served, one has the glass, the spoon, sugar cubes, a carafe of cold water, and of course, the absinthe.
HOW TO MAKE ABSINTHE
When making Absinthe make sure that you are using only real wormwood, Artemisia absinthium. Other types of wormwood such as Silver King, Roman (petite) Wormwood, Southernwood, Tarragon, Old Woman, Dusty Miller, Sagebrush, and Levant Wormseed contain little or no thujone, the main active ingredient in absinthe.
Don’t forget that the herbs placed in Absinthe have their own properties. Wormwood was used by the ancient Egyptians to expel worms from people and animals, as well as for an insect repellent. It contains anti-malarial substances, and was used against fever. Wormwood also has liver protecting qualities, due to the presence of anti-oxidants and calcium blockers. It has been shown to block the growth of some types of bacteria. Wormwood contains vitamin B, C and D. Women in ancient times applied wormwood to their nipples to help wean their babies. Substances in wormwood that are washed into the soil by rain tend to inhibit the growth of other plants nearby.
In Asia, wormwood has been used for centuries to a variety of things. The Chinese used it to relieve migraine headaches, as well as menstrual pain in women. Taken as a soup, they used it to relieve a hangover, cure liver jaundice and relieve the pain of arthritis. In Korea, Japan and China, wormwood rice cakes were a delicacy favoured by the high born and said to ward off disease. Dried wormwood was burned as an incense in houses to sterilize them of disease, twisted in the form of a tiger and hung in a place to ward off illness, and worn in the hair with a thread wrapped around it to ward off misfortune. Wormwood was one of the symbols of immortality in China, and Taoists consumed it to aid their spiritual transformation.
Thujone, the main active ingredient in wormwood, was named after the plant from which it was first extracted, thuja. It has variously been called absinthol, tanacetone and salviol. It is contained in a number of other plants, including sage, tansy and white cedar. Thujone accumulates in the body with regular use, and has a mild psychoactive effect. It has a pain killing effect similar to codene, and has been shown to increase the learning ability of slow learners. When 2.5 kg of wormwood is used to prepare 100 liters of absinthe, about 2-4 mg of thujone will be present. Vermouth, chartreuse and benedictine all contain small amounts of thujone. It is the major component of wormwood oil, and accounts for up to 90% of the oil’s weight; this density makes wormwood oil dangerous to ingest. Thujone is chemically related to THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana.
Anise and fennel contain psychoactive anethole. Anise is what helps the absinthe loache up (turn a milky opalescent color when you add five times as much water to a shot of the absinthe. It is important when making absinthe to use twice as much anise (or star anise) as wormwood.
Fennel has a long history as an adjunct to spirituality; its oil was traded to temples throughout the ancient Mediterranean area, and it was the “herb of immortality” retrieved by the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh. Angelica root was used by American Indians to induce lucidity and visions. Coriander was used as an aphrodisiac, while lemon balm (melissa) was a curative. Licorice is an aromatic, used for flavoring. All of the different ingredients used to make Absinthe generally fall into one of these four categories: mind-altering, aphrodisiac, curative or aromatic.
Commercial absinthe is legally made today in Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Denmark and Czechoslovakia, and illegally made in France and Switzerland. It was recently reintroduced to Britain by rock and roller John Moore and his import company, Green Bohemia. In other parts of the world, such as Japan, absinthe is legal. In the United States, many users make it at home. One of the best commercial absinthes today is Sebor Absinthe.
First they begin with the finest refined alcohol to assure the highest purity and maximum herbal absorption. Healing herbs are soaked a long time in strong alcohol or water to extract the best flavors and smells. The mixture ripens for a long time, allowing all the herbs, and the main ingredient, wormwood (Artemisa absinthium) to mix and mellow. The final product is re-distilled to a 55 percent alcohol (110 proof) content. In addition to Artemisa absinthium, the main herbal ingredients are anise and fennel, followed by chamomile, coriander, mint, melissa (lemon balm) and others, which are Sebor’s secret.
An Old French Recipe
An 1855 recipe from Pontarlier, France, gives the following instructions for making absinthe:
Macerate 2.5 kilograms of dried wormwood, 5 kilograms of anise and 5 kilograms of fennel in 95 liters of 85 percent ethanol by volume. Let the mixture steep for at least 12 hours in the pot of a double boiler. Add 45 liters of water and apply heat; collect 95 liters of distillate. To 40 liters of the distillate, add 1 kilogram of wormwood, 1 kilogram of hyssop and 500 grams of melissa (lemon balm), all of which have been dried and finely divided. Extract at a moderate temperature, then siphon off the liquor, filter, and reunite it with the remaining 55 liters of distillate. Dilute with water to produce approximately 100 liters of absinthe with a final alcohol concentration of 74 percent by volume.
Putting the Wormwood back in Pernod
After the ban on absinthe, Pernod and Herb Sainte were produced without wormwood as an ingredient. You can remedy this. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons Wormwood extract (wormwood herb distilled in food grade alcohol) to 1 liter or quart of Pernod or Herb Sainte. **Please note, this extract is also referred to as wormwood water, and IS NOT wormwood oil, which is poisonous when more than a drop or two are used. It is *not* recommended to steep wormwood herb in Pernod, as the results are extremely bitter. The distillation creates a minty and aromatic flavor, whereas the residue (from steeping) creates a persistent bitterness.
Ingredients: 30 grams wormwood, 8.5 grams hyssop, 1.8 grams calamus, 6.0 grams melissa (lemon balm), 30 grams anise, 25 grams fennel seed, 10 grams star anise, 3.2 grams coriander. Put the dry herbs in a large jar. Dampen slightly. Add 800 milliliters of 85-95 percent alcohol. Wine spirits make a better product than pure grain alcohol. Let steep for several days – a week is better – shaking occasionally. Then add 600 milliliters of water and let the whole macerate for another day. Decant off the liquid squeezing as much from the mass of herb as possible. Wet the herbs with some vodka and squeeze again. Recipe should give a little over a liter and a half of green liquor. It must then be distilled.
Color the distillate by again adding: 4.2 grams mint, 1.1 grams melissa (lemon balm), 3.0 grams wormwood, 1 gram citron peel, 4.2 grams liquorice root. Let the herbs macerate for another three or four days. Decant, filter, bottle.
Ingredients: 1 pint vodka, 2 teaspoons crumbled wormwood (dried), 2 teaspoons anise seed, 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, 4 cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon marjoram, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 2 teaspoons chopped angelica root, 1 2/3 cups sugar syrup. Place vodka in large jar with tight fitting lid. Add wormwood and shake well; steep 48 hrs and strain out. Crush seeds and pods in mortar. Add them and all remaining spices to vodka and steep in a warm place for one week. Filter and sweeten. This absinthe is made to drink straight, not in the French manner. The sugar syrup mentioned above is your standard simple syrup.
Another Steeped Absinthe
Ingredients: one ounce chopped wormwood, one tablespoon angelica root, one teaspoon hyssop, one half teaspoon coriander seeds, one quarter teaspoon caraway seeds, one pinch cardamom pods, one tablespoon of anise seeds, 750 ml 111 proof vodka. In a glass container add the wormwood to the vodka. Set aside in the dark for ten days. For extra-powerful absinthe, use 151 rum instead of vodka. Then strain out the wormwood and add all the remaining spices and herbs. Wait four more days, then strain these out and serve.
Easy Steeped Absinthe Version 3
Ingredients: one third cup of crumbled wormwood, one tablespoon angelica root, one teaspoon hyssop, one teaspoon anise seeds, one half teaspoon coriander seed, one tablespoon licorice root, one tablespoon lemon balm, one tablespoon calamis root, one tablespoon star anise, anise extract from two ounces of anise, one liter Everclear or 100 proof vodka, one cup sugar or simple syrup. Steep the wormwood and alcohol in a glass container in the dark for five days, shaking occasionally. Then strain out the wormwood, crush the remaining herbs in a mortar (or any way you can) and add the remaining herbs to the liquid and steep for four days in a warm place. Strain and serve.
FAMOUS ABSINTHE USERS
Guy de Maupassant
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Vincent Van Gogh
Edgar Allen Poe
This article was published in the Magus Opus Autumn edition 2011.
Brad & Saskia