Absinthe thujone is the chemical seen in Absinthe’s vital ingredient, the plant identified as Common Wormwood, or Artemisia Absinthium to give it its botanical name. The compound thujone was partly responsible for Absinthe being banned in early 1900s in several countries around the world and thujone continues to be tightly regulated today absinthe supreme, particularly 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 triggering hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was favored by the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and lots of artists and writers claimed that Absinthe, the Green Fairy, gave them inspiration and their genius. Famous Absinthe drinkers include Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Some say that Van Gogh’s madness was caused by Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its influence . Absinthe was even held responsible for a man murdering his family, although he had consumed a number of 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 alcoholism on the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Harmful?
Today’s studies suggest that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe that was dangerous rather than the thujone. Absinthe is twice as strong as spirits like whisky and vodka and can be 75% alcohol. Care should therefore be utilized when taking in Absinthe. Thujone is simply found in minute quantities and must therefore cause no major unwanted effects or health issues. The EU stipulates that alcoholic beverages with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% may possibly contain a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain as much as 35mg/kg, it isn’t totally clear which class Absinthe suits but a majority of brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with a lot of being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is only legal to buy or sell Absinthes with trace quantities of thujone.
High doses of thujone could be dangerous causing convulsions however you would need to drink a large amount of Absinthe to consume that quantity of thujone and it might be impossible to drink that amount, you’d be comatosed from alcohol before then!
It is said that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the first Absinthe distillery, used the herbs wormwood, aniseed, fennel, lemon balm, hyssop, angelica root, dittany, star anise, nutmeg, juniper and veronica to make his famous Pernod Absinthe. The essential oil from these herbs is responsible for La Louche, the clouding which comes about when water is put into Absinthe. These herbs especially the aniseed and anise are accountable for the distinctive aniseed or licorice taste of Absinthe and wormwood is responsible for the bitter flavor. Absinthe is sometimes used as bitters in cocktails.
There are lots of brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes that have been developed over the ban and thus contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, however, many would claim that Absinthe is not Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you want real Absinthe look for brands that contains wormwood or Absinthe thujone.