This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Absinthe is a liqueur used largely in France, being concocted in the main from the herb Wormwood (artemisia absinthium) which yields an essential oil consisting chiefly of absinthol. This oil is the basis of the said liqueur, the effects whereof, when taken to excess, are frequent giddiness, and attacks of epileptiform convulsions. Much diluted doses of the liqueur, if carefully administered, will materially relieve ailments of this same character which are determined by physical irregularities within the body. One teaspoonful of the absinthe twice a day with a wineglassful of cold water for an adult patient.
The original absinthe was a harmless medicament, prepared and used by a French physician named Ordinaire, who was living as a refugee in Switzerland at the close of the eighteenth century. He was a country doctor, and a druggist, cultivating in his little garden the herbs for making absinthe, then without alcohol. But the French "absinthe" of to-day is a highly aromatic, intoxicating liqueur, of an opaline green colour, and with a bitter taste. It is prepared by steeping in alcohol, or strong spirit, certain bitter herbs, of which the chief are artemisia absinthium, and artemisia mutellina, with artemisia spicata, each a wormwood. The mode generally practised of drinking this liqueur is by adding it to water, drop by drop, or by allowing it to trickle through a funnel having only a minute opening below; thus prepared, it is styled "la hussarde,"and is commonly supplied in the cafes of France, Italy, and Switzerland.
When indulged in as an appetizer by connoisseurs, absinthe, the "fairy with the green eyes, "is modified by admixture with anisette, and is of note as an "agreeable and bronchitis-palliating liqueur." If served sparingly at table, and not taken habitually, it soothes spinal irritability, and gives tone to persons of a highly nervous temperament, acting closely after the manner of those alkaline bromides which constitute drug remedies as prescribed almost specifically for these same bodily ailments. Suitable allowances of the diluted liqueur will promote salutary perspiration, and may be given, moreover, for successfully expelling intestinal worms. The use of Absinthe as a stimulating dram, with comforting effects, prevailed at one time amongst French soldiers at Algiers, but led to baneful results because taken too freely. It is now, therefore, forbidden throughout the French army.
Wormwood, as employed in making this liqueur, bears also the name "wermuth," or "keep mind"(preserver of the mind), from its supposed medicinal virtues as a nervine, and mental restorative.
Inferior Absinthe, such as is retailed at the popular bars, and cheap cafes in Paris, and the French provinces, at three halfpence the glass, is generally adulterated with copper for producing the characteristic green colour. To swallow repeated doses of this pernicious stuff in the early morning is called "killing the worm." Inveterate absintheurs are found to drop down dead in the streets every day that dawns in Paris, either from apoplexy, or because of heart failure; yet merrily "strangling the parrot"(as the term goes) is continued, and jests about "taking the blue" are as lively as ever! Unhappily, too, Absinthe may now be bought at most of our London West End public houses, and even the most casual observer can notice in these places that the absinthe habit is growing in our midst. To order an absinthe is regarded as a mark of some distinction. "Yet,"said The St. James's Gazette, August 7th, 1902, "Absinthe is a liqueur which is particularly unsuited to the English temperament, except for medicinal uses under the guidance of a skilled doctor." The intensely bitter taste resides in its "absinthin".
Pepys tells in his Diary, November 24th, 1660: "Creed, and Shipley, and I to the Rhenish Wine House, and there I did give them two quarts of wormwood wine." "Medical observation in France"(says Herbal Simples) "shows that this liqueur exercises through the pneumogastric nerve a painful sensation which has been taken for that of extreme hunger. The feeling goes off quickly if a little alcohol is then given, though it is aggravated by coffee: whilst under an excessive use of absinthe from day to day the stomach will cease to perform its duty, an irritative reaction will come on in the brain, and the effects of blind drunkenness follow each debauch." Nevertheless, a controversial statement of quite an opposite character has been recently made in France by M. Cusenier, a manufacturer of absinthe, who attributes the superiority of his famous collection of live stock to the use for them of this liquor. He says he has made a practice of liberally feeding his rabbits, poultry, and guinea-pigs with oxygenated absinthe, and has produced the result that his creatures thrive much better than those of his neighbours using other nutriments. "The people," says he, "of the wine and spirit-making departments of France, where absinthe is the favourite beverage, are remarkably robust, and healthy".
By means of experiments on dogs, Professor D'Ormea has lately learnt that Absinthe, in common with the essences of aniseed, lemon, mint, and cinnamon, but more potently than these, has a very decided effect on the circulation of blood in the brain. They severally exercise a chemical action on nerve-centres which govern certain blood vessels in the brain-substance: and they may therefore be used remedially for such a purpose.