ELIZABETH FIEND REPORTS: There was a war, you see, in a hot and far away place that had a strange religion called I-s-l-a-m and a lot of our boys were getting killed, and maimed, and messed up in the head and the war dragged on a lot longer then we expected until nobody could really remember why we were over there in the first place. Then a farmer shot his whole family, shot ’em dead in their sleep with his Army issued rifle and the powers that be just denied, denied, denied what you know and I know and even Michael Dukakis knows: A FISH ROTS FROM THE HEAD DOWN.
And so goes the story of absinthe, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, known as Old Europe. That war was the one where the French colonized Algeria. The one where soldiers were issued absinthe as a fever prevention. The mess at home was a plague, grape phylloxera, which destroyed two-thirds of the vineyards on the continent of Europe. The rich bought all the wine, ALL of it, screw the middle class they said, and so there? was no wine left for the working class. A call goes out: Support The Troops, Drink Absinthe! Soon enough, the Great Unwashed took whole heartedly to drinking this intoxicating, green beverage that all the soldiers love. Sorta like the hippies wearing military wear in the early ’70s. Or the yellow ribbon on the Hummer…
Around that moment in time, the word ‘alcoholism’ is first coined. It is a very sad day. Fortunately, the cure for alcoholism was a stay at the insane asylum and a treatment of wine. Wine, beautiful wine, a source of national pride. Doctors felt one liter of wine a day was a healthy amount for a hard-working man to drink each day. How much more for the insane?
As absinthe’s popularity grew, so did public hysteria over it. It had a lovely, very social aspect to its buzz which was first attributed to the flavoring herb anise. Later it was credited to the psychoactive ingredient in wormwood, thujone. Thujone creates what’s called a ‘lucid-drink effect,’ kinda like doing a line and then pounding a shot. Current science says thujone increases and randomizes the firing of neurons in your brain. This tends to make you a bit more imaginative — old things look new and everything looks crisp. Creative people just love that. This is a secondary effect. The primary effect of absinthe was that people were getting wasted like never before. Why? Because absinthe? is a distilled spirit, a liquor, and the masses were chugging it down like wine. It wasn’t the thujone that made that Swiss farmer kill his family, it was the liquor. He had 2 glasses of absinthe for breakfast, followed by 2 liters of wine and a bunch of brandy — only then did he go get his gun. But the government, the wine lobbyists, the rich and powerful cognac manufacturers and the prohibitionists wouldn’t have it: Why, this isn’t harmless booze at all! It?’s a drug! This seductive Green Fury will lead the whole continent to the very bowels of Hell! And so absinthe became the scapegoat for all of society’s ills.
Sound familiar? I thought it might.
And why is absinthe currently banned here in the U.S.? No good reason other than The Man doesn’t want you to get high in the privacy of your own biochemistry. On July 25, 1912, the Department of Agriculture issued Food Inspection Decision 147, effectively banning absinthe in America. Seven years later all alcohol was banned in the U.S. But you could still grow Artemesia absinthium, (which I do) and while it’s illegal to distill and sell beverages made of wormwood, it’s not illegal to infuse a beverage (which I do). And so, the afterlife of absinthe in America commenced. You too can be free again, just get yerself back to the garden.
Two Wormwood Fun Facts:
1. Why the name wormwood? The herb was used in medieval times “to remove worms from the guts.”
2. Edgar Allen Poe’s favorite pipe-full was wormwood. Yeah, you can smoke this shit too! HOLLA!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Fiend is Philadelphia’s Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. Most people don’t know it yet, but that will change. Miss Fiend is host of the Big Tea Party. But enough of my yackin’, here’s Elizabeth with the 411 on her column: “Most people don’t think about the fact that science doesn’t determine our government’s regulations and recommendations for health and the environment, it’s sleazy politicking and backroom lobbying that makes the rules and I would like to bring this fact more to the forefront,” she says. “My philosophy is decidedly anti-big business/governmental lobbying but in line with the science of (my idol, ok crush) Dr. Walter Willett, Harvard University School of Public Health. There’s an edge to it, but it’s not goofy new age — i.e., stuff with no basis in fact. And besides all that, I am the most fun of all the health advocates. I’m the only one who consistently wears pink and is brewing absinthe in her kitchen (excuse me, that’s illegal, infusing absinthe).” Word.