“Let me be mad, then, by all means! mad with the madness of Absinthe, the wildest, most luxurious madness in the world! Vive la folie! Vive l'amour! Vive l'animalisme! Vive le Diable!”
~ Marie Corelli, Wormwood: A Drama of Paris, 1890
Have you seen the green fairy? Absinthe, commonly referred to as "la fée verte" is an anise-flavored spirit, generally made from botanicals of Artemisia absinthium (grand wormwood), green anise, sweet fennel, and other medicinal and culinary herbs. Absinthe was hugely popular with the fashionable set in Paris in the 19th century, so much so, that by the 1860s, bars, bistros, cafés, and cabarets would designate 5:00 P.M. as "the green hour." Its exaggerated reputation as an addictive substance and as a popular subject of artists (showing benumbed and inebriated drinkers), led to its association with moral decay, leading to its banning by several countries in 1915. Nowadays, the trace amounts of thujone, a psychoactive and hallucinogenic substance, are no longer thought to be generally harmful, though many modern brands take advantage of the absinthe revival of the 1990s by advertising themselves as thujone-free. Scotland too now produces its own absinthe! Mermichan (Scots Gaelic for Wicked Fairy) is a blend of traditional and Scottish herbs including: grande wormwood, green aniseed, fennel seed, hyssop, star anise, lemon balm, mint, lemon thyme, bramble leaves, heather flower, and Deeside honey. 🧚
“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”
~ Oscar Wilde
By designer Carol A.L. Martin, this tartan uses the classic colors of the green of the drink itself, together with the contrasting warmer colours of the advertisements for absinthe which were popularized in the Art Nouveau period.
In French cafés, 5 p.m. became known as “l’heure verte,” or the “green hour,” signaling the flow of absinthe into the late hours of the evening. Nicknamed la fée verte (the green fairy) for its hallucinogenic properties, absinthe was the drink of choice for all, from the wealthy bourgeoisie to the working classes. The most famous of absinthe drinkers were the Bohemians – artists, writers and intellectuals. Among Absinthe’s insatiable enthusiasts were Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mark Twain, who raved about the drink’s creative and poetic effects.
There are actually five main types of Absinthe: Blanche, Verte, Absenta, Hausgemacht, Bohemian. The French “Verte”, meaning “green”, is possibly the most famous.
Absinthe is traditionally prepared from a distillation of a neutral alcohol, various herbs, and water. The principal botanicals are grande wormwood, green anise, and florence fennel, often called “the holy trinity.” Many other herbs may be used as well, such as petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica or Roman wormwood), hyssop, melissa, star anise, angelica, sweet flag, dittany, coriander, veronica, juniper, and nutmeg.
Absinthe contains a psychoactive chemical called thujone (in trace amounts). Because of this, Absinthe was rumored to cause hallucinations and said to be addictive. As a result, during the early 20th century many countries banned absinthe. France banned absinthe in 1914, Switzerland in 1910 and the United States banned absinthe in 1912.
Today most countries have lifted the prohibition of absinthe. A few countries never did make absinthe illegal, among them Great Britain and the Czech Republic. The United States lifted the ban in 2007 the condition that the drink is “thujone free”.
Scotland has even released its own absinthe, Mermichan (Scots: Wicked Fairy), a unique blend of traditional and Scottish ingredients from The Lost Loch Distillery. Flavours include: grande wormwood, green aniseed, fennel seed, hyssop, star anise, lemon balm, mint, lemon thyme, bramble leaves, heather flower, and Deeside honey.
For more on the unique art inspired by "the green fairy," click one of the most iconic of the Art Nouveau posters advertising absinthe, particularly the 1896 ad for Absinthe Robette by the Belgian posterist Privat-Livemount.