Absinthe is a famous spirit, also known as Green Fairy, made from wormwood, anise and other aromatic herbs such as star anise, aniseed, fennel liquorice, hyssop, veronica, lemon, balm, angelica root, dittany, coriander, juniper and nutmeg.
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), the key ingredient of this liqueur is a plant from Europe and Asia with crenulated grey leaves which gives the spirit a bitter taste and its peculiar green colour.
Thujone a toxic chemical compound with a similar molecular structure as THC (the active chemical in cannabis) can be extracted from this plant and is the main reason why this spirit is shrouded in myth and superstition. We should remember that decades ago absinthe was produced with very high concentrations of this compound, causing addiction and hallucinations, what followed was its prohibition in many countries all around the world.
In ancient Greece this plant was dedicated to the goddess Artemis (Diana, in the Roman legend), goddess of fertility and hunting and that's the reason for the scientific name of the plant.
This spirit was first produced in Switzerland and France, but its fame and consumption spread through all parts of the world.
Originally wormwood was used for medicinal purposes such as the relief of gastric pains and as a cardiac stimulant. In Greece, Hippocrates recommended it for rheumatism, anaemia and menstrual pains. Also Pythagoras recommended it soaked in wine to ease labour pains. At that time absinthe was prepared differently from the way its done today.
Modern absinthe was probably invented by Pierre Ordinaire in 1792.
In the 19th century absinthe consumption was very popular among artists, writers, poets and became associated with European Bohemian culture. Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Baudelaire, Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway all of them were appreciated a bottle of "green fairy". Around absinthe grew rumours about its mysterious effects which soon caused its abolition in many countries.
Absinthe sold today has an alcoholic volume of between 60% and 70%, although at the end of distillation it has a strength of 85%. It is customary to serve absinthe following a traditional ritual: a sugar cube is held over a glass in a perforated flat spoon and water is allowed to drip slowly through, the spirit is slowly diluted in the water and the emerald green colour turns milky green (the effect is called "louche").