Absinthe thujone is the chemical found in Absinthe’s vital ingredient, the plant known as Common Wormwood, or Artemisia Absinthium to give it its botanical name absinthekit.com/articles. The substance thujone was partly the cause of Absinthe being banned in early 1900s in several countries around the world and thujone continues to be tightly regulated today, specifically in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was considered to be much like THC present in cannabis and Absinthe was alleged to be psychoactive and possess psychedelic effects causing hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was popular with the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and lots of artists and writers claimed that Absinthe, the Green Fairy, gave them inspiration in addition to their genius. Renowned Absinthe drinkers include Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Some point out that Van Gogh’s madness was due to Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its influence. Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his family, although he had taken a great many other strong alcoholic drinks after the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the banning of Absinthe and charged France’s growing problems of alcohol dependency to the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Hazardous?
Today’s studies suggest that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe which was dangerous rather than the thujone. Absinthe is doubly strong as spirits like whisky and vodka and can be 75% alcohol. Care should therefore be taken when ingesting Absinthe. Thujone is only present in minute quantities and must therefore cause no major negative effects or health conditions. The EU stipulates that booze with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% may only contain a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain as much as 35mg/kg, it’s not entirely clear which class Absinthe suits but most brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with many being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is only legal to purchase or sell Absinthes with trace quantities of thujone.
High doses of thujone may be dangerous leading to convulsions however you would have to drink a large amount of Absinthe to consume that quantity of thujone and it will be impossible to drink that amount, you’d be comatosed from alcohol before then!
It is known that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the initial Absinthe distillery, used the herbs wormwood, aniseed, fennel, lemon balm, hyssop, angelica root, dittany, star anise, nutmeg, juniper and veronica to create his famous Pernod Absinthe. The essential oil from these herbs is responsible for La Louche, the clouding which occurs when water is added to Absinthe. These herbs especially the aniseed and anise are accountable for the distinctive aniseed or licorice taste of Absinthe and wormwood is mainly responsible for the bitter flavor. Absinthe is oftentimes used as bitters in cocktails.
There are several brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes which were developed in the ban and so contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, however, many would claim that Absinthe just isn’t Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you’d like real Absinthe look for brands that contains wormwood or Absinthe thujone.