Absinthe wormwood is normally Artemisia Absinthium or Grand Wormwood which is actually a variety of wormwood which does not contain a vast amount of the chemical thujone. Some brands of Absinthe use Roman Wormwood, Artemisia Pontica, in addition to Grand Wormwood and this type of wormwood also contains thujone, so drinks with two types of wormwood may contain more thujone. Thujone amounts can differ between brands significantly, some Absinthes only have negligible amounts of thujone, whereas others have up to 35mg/kg. Only Absinthe which has negligible amounts of thujone is legal for sale in the USA because thujone is an illegal food additive there.
Why is there controversy about Absinthe Wormwood?
Common Wormwood, Artemisia Absinthium, is a plant which has been used in medicine since Ancient times. It has been used:-
- To counteract poisoning caused by toadstools and hemlock.
- As a tonic.
- To reduce a fever.
- As a stimulant to digestion.
- To treat parasitic intestinal worms.
It is the herb Wormwood which gives Absinthe its bitterness, its green color and its name. The essential herbal oils in Absinthe are also responsible for the famouse “louche” effect, the cloudy that happens when water is addded to the drink.
Absinthe was banned in the early 1900s in many countries because of the alleged harmful effects of the chemical thujone, found in Wormwood extract. Absinthe drinking was linked to violent crimes, serious intoxication, insanity and thujone was thought to have psychoactive and psychedelic effects and to be an hallucinogen. It was even claimed that a french man killed his whole family after drinking Absinthe – he was actually an alcoholic who consumed copious amounts of other alcohol after the Absinthe!
From being a trendy Bohemian drink enjoyed by many writers and artists, such as Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde, it was suddenly a banned and illegal drink. It was banned in many European countries and also in the USA but was never banned in the UK, where it had never been popular, Spain, Portugal or the Czech Republic.
Absinthe Wormwood Revival
There was never any real evidence linking Absinthe drinking to hallucinations or insanity and it is now known that Absinthe is no worse than any other highly alcoholic drink. Absinthe has approximately twice the alcoholic content of spirits such as whisky and vodka and so should be consumed in moderation, but Absinthe wormwood is not thought to be harmful. Many Absinthe drinkers do report feeling a funny lucid or clear headed type of drunkenness when consuming a bit too much Absinthe – this could be due to the combination of the sedative effects of some of the herbs (and the alcohol content)and the stimulating effects of the Wormwood and other herbs.
Since Absinthe was legalized in many countries in the 1990s there has been a renewed interest, a revival, in Absinthe drinking. There are many different types and brands of Absinthe available to buy and buyers can even order Absinthe essence, to make their own Absinthe, online from companies like AbsintheKit.com.
Absinthe Wormwood is still the most important ingredient in Absinthe today but thujone content is strictly regulated in the European Union (no more than 10mg/kg) and the United States where only trace amounts are allowed. Look for Absinthes that contain real wormwood and herbs not artificial flavors.