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 www.absinthekit.com/articles. The compound thujone was partly accountable for Absinthe being banned in the 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 regarded as similar to THC found in cannabis and Absinthe was alleged to be psychoactive and have psychedelic effects producing hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was popular with the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and lots of artists and writers believed 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 claim that Van Gogh’s madness was brought on by Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its effect. Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his family, despite the fact that he had ingested a great many other strong alcoholic drinks right after the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the banning of Absinthe and blamed France’s growing problems of alcohol addiction to the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Harmful?
Today’s research suggests that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe that was dangerous instead of the thujone. Absinthe is twice as strong as spirits like whisky and vodka and can be 75% alcohol. Care should therefore be taken when consuming Absinthe. Thujone is simply present in minute quantities and should therefore cause no major negative effects or health conditions. The EU stipulates that booze with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% may possibly have a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain up to 35mg/kg, it is not totally clear which class Absinthe matches but many brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with many being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is just legal to buy or sell Absinthes with trace quantities of thujone.
High doses of thujone could be dangerous causing convulsions however you will have to drink a great deal of Absinthe to consume that quantity of thujone and it would be impossible to drink that amount, you would be comatosed from alcohol before then!
It is known that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the very first 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 comes about 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 responsible for the bitter flavor. Absinthe is usually used as bitters in cocktails.
There are several brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes which were developed in the ban and therefore contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, but some would state that Absinthe isn’t Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you want real Absinthe look for brands containing wormwood or Absinthe thujone.