Absinthe (wormwood): Effect, application and preparation

“Absinthe” is derived from the French word “absinthe”, which in turn comes from the Latin “absinthium” - and this is what the wormwood plant means. Absinthe is a high-proof drink in emerald green, whereby the color is caused by the chlorophyll (green plant pigment) of the herbs it contains. The vermouth gives this aperitif a bitter taste. Other herbs like fennel and anise add more flavors. The plant wormwood was already mentioned in the "Ebers Papyrus" in ancient Egypt - it is, therefore, one of the earliest medicinal plants that have come down to us in writing.

Scientific name: Artemisia absinthium

Common names (selection): wormwood, real wormwood, bitter mugwort, Alsem, Alsam, Wrämt, Wrem, Wörmd, Wörmete, Els, Als, Bitterals, Vermoth, Wärmeden, wormwort, burial herb, Hilligbitter, Biermersch, Berzwurz, Pardehan, Marmude

Family: daisy family ( Asteraceae )

Distribution: Originally Europe and West Asia, today everywhere in Central and Southern Europe, North Africa, and large parts of Asia, cultivated in the USA

Parts of plants used: The whole herb

Ingredients: bitter substances (absinthine), tannins, essential oil, flavones, ascorbic acid

Areas of application:

  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Flatulence
  • Bloating


Absinthe is made with alcohol through maceration and distillation of wormwood. There is also a high-proof drink depending on the recipe.
  • Anise
  • Star anise
  • Fennel
  • Hyssop
  • Lemon balm
  • Coriander
  • Juniper
  • Nutmeg
  • Sweet flag
  • Angelica (Angelica)
  • Roman mugwort
Wormwood contains 0.15 to 0.4 percent bitter substances (absinthin, artabsin, anabsin), and 0.2 to 1.5 percent essential oil with components such as thujone, isothujone, chamazulene, sabinene, trans-sabinyl acetate, and chrysanthenyl acetate. There are also flavones, tannins, and ascorbic acid. The a-thujone is considered to be the trigger for the toxic effects of the drink.

Anise and fennel

The anise contained in the absinthe drink offers essential oil, especially trans-anethole, little cis-anethole, and estragole.

The fennel used has essential oil with substances such as trans-anethole, fenchone, camphene, myrcene, limonene, terpinolene, estragole, and dillapiol. It also contains silica, minerals (including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium), vitamins A, K, and E, and, with the exception of B12, all B vitamins. In addition, there is a high content of vitamin C: 247.3 milligrams for 100 grams of the fresh plant.


The essential oil of wormwood contains thujone. This substance was held responsible for the negative effects of absinthe consumption in the 19th century. These included:
  • Dizziness
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Cramps
  • temporary or permanent blindness
  • general mental and physical decline
Today, many of these symptoms are more likely to be attributed to the alcohol found in absinthe. Both are neurotoxins, and both have partially similar effects. Thujone actually triggers epileptic convulsions in higher doses and leads to confusion and distorted perceptions. That's because thujone blocks serotonin receptors.

But science has also found that the amount of thujone in absinthe is too small to trigger these convulsions. The euphoric effect that is often described in today's absinthe is not due to the thujone either.

It is unlikely that the thujone content was significantly higher in the past because this would mean that more wormwood oils of wormwood extracts would have been added to absinthe. However, this would have made him more bitter to the same extent, to the point of inedibleness it is hardly to be assumed that someone would have drunk something like this for pleasure. Thujone was the reason why absinthe was banned in many countries.


Historical absinthe contained between 45 and 78 percent alcohol, and the "typical" absinthe drinker consumed the drink in abundance. "Absinthism" appears as a form of alcoholism. In 1914, adults in the motherland of absinthe, France, drank around 30 liters of pure alcohol a year, a multiple of today's consumption.

The "absinthism" described in historical sources was no different from alcoholism those affected demanded more and more absinthe; it worked less and less, although they increased the dose. Motivation, drive, and performance fell continuously; at some point, the brain replaced missing memories with inventions. Organ damage joined the psychological problems; the intoxication was followed by severe depression.

Methanol, booze, and poison

The historical absinthe was often a "poor man's drink", so classic booze. The low-grade alcohol often contained amyl alcohol and methanol. Methanol really triggers dizziness, nausea, and headaches and, in the long run, leads to blindness, shaking paralysis described by chronic "absinthists" and even death from overdose.

Wormwood effects

Vermouth is a bitter agent. Its bitter substances lead to the release of saliva and gastric juice. In the gastrointestinal tract, they stimulate the production of bile acid and digestive hormones. Digestion is in full swing and appetite increases.

In wormwood, these effects are reinforced by tannins. The plant is therefore a medicinal herb against loss of appetite, gas, and bloating, and absinthe was first administered as a medicine against such ailments. Similar effect angelica (Angelica), yellow gentian, and centaury, which is also found in absinthe.

How does anise work?

Along with wormwood, anise is also one of the classic absinthe herbs. With its sweetness, it complements the bitter wormwood not only in terms of taste but also in terms of its medicinal properties. Anise loosens stubborn mucus in the bronchial tubes, promotes coughing up in the case of colds, and alleviates the symptoms of sinus infections.

It relaxes and strengthens the effect of wormwood on gas and bloating. Anise also increases milk production in breastfeeding women - however, breastfeeding women should never consume absinthe because of the thujone and alcohol.

Absinthe - the green fairy

The mugwort species, which also includes wormwood, are among the oldest medicinal plants that have been handed down in writing. They are mentioned in the Egyptian “Papyrus Ebers”, which was created several millennia before Christ. Hippocrates mentioned tinctures or extracts from mugwort, in the Middle Ages the clergyman Hildegard von Bingen recommended wormwood boiled in wine as a remedy against worm infestation. In the early modern period, wormwood made from wormwood leaves fermented with grapes was a remedy for stomach ailments.

The drink absinthe probably originated in Switzerland at the end of the 18th century, in Val-de-Travers. A French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire who fled to Prussia is said to have administered an "élixir d'absinthe" as medicine. After his death, this recipe came to the Henriod family, who sold it to pharmacies. There are various theses among historians about the role of Ordinaire and the Henriod family.

In any case, Major Dubied bought the recipe from the Henriod family in 1797 and founded the first official absinthe distillery with his son Marcellin and son-in-law Henri Louis Pernod. After a short time, they were already producing 400 liters a day. The success quickly found imitators and soon there was an abundance of absinthe producers in France.

Originally the drink was a medicinal product, but quickly became a heavy drink, especially loved by artists. Absinthe got the name "Green Fairy" because of its emerald green color, which turns milky white when diluted with water. Famous absinthists included Vincent Van Gogh and his friend Paul Gauguin, luminaries of black romanticism such as Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso.

Absinthists and Abolition

Absinthe was extremely popular in the early 20th century, and the physical and psychological decline of many "absinthists" raised the alarm from state authorities. The thujone contained in wormwood was considered to be the poison that caused the damage to health. Several European countries had banned absinthe in 1915, as did the USA.

Current studies and a comparison of the symptoms described by "absinthists" with the symptoms of chronic alcohol abuse have shown no harm that deviates from alcoholism. It is not the thujone, which is present in smaller quantities in the drink, but the quantity and quality of the alcohol consumed that are now considered to be the “culprits” for the negative effects of historical “absinthism”. That is why most European countries have allowed absinthe to be sold again since 1998.

Buy absinthe

There are currently so many types of absinthe that it is difficult to choose. The Adnams Rouge even has a red color because it is made with hibiscus flowers, some absinthes taste lemony and peppermint, others traditionally like the trio of wormwood, aniseed, and fennel. The Roquette 1797 is made according to Ordinaire's recipe - Roquette was the name of his horse.

The highest quality level is the Absinthe Verte, which is made from wormwood, green aniseed, fennel, and other herbs by means of distillation. After distillation, it takes on a particularly intense green color, which is primarily responsible for pontic mugwort (Artemisia pontica). It has at least 64 percent alcohol, with a lower alcohol content the green fades. Historically, this was the only form of absinthe.

Drink absinthe

Absinthe of the highest quality is usually drunk diluted with water. It then turns milky white. The water should not contain carbon dioxide and be ice cold. Most types of absinthe are much too strong on their own, and the aromas only develop when they are mixed with water. A third of absinthe and two to three parts of water make the ideal mixture.

The water should drip slowly into the absinthe because this way the essential oils of the herbs can dissolve better. If we add the water drop by drop, the different oils can develop better in the respective water-alcohol ratio. If, on the other hand, we fill in the water too quickly, the absinthe will not be milky, but watery. 

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