MORE ABOUT WORMWOOD AND THUJONE
Some words on wormwood and thujone from Kyle Bairnsfather: I collect and study old medical texts from the 1700's-1900's, in English, German and Czech. I have drawn some conclusions from reading and comparing different herbal remedies (they only had herbs at the time) for different aliments from different periods. And I will show why thujone was and is an important part of Absinth(e). And comments and psuedoscience contrary show a plain lack of knowledge about the history of the plant and the beverage as well as the English language. I give this educational briefing to visitors to our Likerka (production facility), if you use this please quote me and give credit where it is due.
In the past, there were aliments that people contracted which we no longer have to worry about due to modern vaccines and chemicals as well as technology. A few hundred years ago, there was no bleach, no anti-bacterial soap that one could buy in the supermarket, there weren't even supermarkets, there were no freezers or refrigerators for preserving food, there were no electrical ovens or gas stoves for cooking food or stainless steel utensils or preparation tables. Hot water entailed pumping water from the well and making a fire to heat it up (cutting down a tree, splitting, stacking and drying wood in advance), a couple hours of work for a few hot liters. Most foods had to be salted or smoked in order to preserve them through the winter months. In the world that people lived in without modern anti-bacterial chemicals and without modern food preservation and preparation technology, contracting intestinal worms and other parasites along the digestive tract was an every day problem for the majority of the population. Historically, the most popular and effective means of ridding one's body of such parasites was the use of WORMWOOD, and as anyone can plainly see, the name given to the plant group Artemisia in the English language is based upon the use of the plants: wormwood: the wood that cures of worms. Granted today we do not consider a shrub to be "wood", but we are looking at the historical origins of the name.
The plants of the genus Artemisia have been used all over the world (where it grows) from Siberia to N. America and Europe by native peoples to cure their population of intestinal tract parasites. The digestive system is just as important as the blood circulation system, nervous system, etc. Without the absorption of nutrients into the body, the organism will die.
The question for healers was, how to prepare the bitter and unpleasant taste of wormwood so that members of society can consume the healing properties with the lowest amount of unpleasantness?
Before we answer that question we need to look at why wormwood was effective in curing intestinal parasites. Wormwood contains the terpene (oil based compound) thujone, most likely it evolved in the plant as a natural defense mechanism against root and leaf eating animals and insects. Just like some fish have evolved poison or unpleasant-tasting coatings on their bodies to prevent themselves from being eaten. Thujone has the effect of causing the tapeworm to loose consciousness, it literally knocks-out the organism/parasite, in this state the parasite loosens its jaws (it is placid as it is unconscious) and the body is able to flush the parasite out of the body because the parasite is no longer able to remain attached. This is why people have been consuming wormwood for thousands of years all over the world. Luckily tapeworms and intestinal parasites are not a common problem in the modern Western world, but they were just a few hundred years ago when the original Absinth elixir was about to be made.
So people knew the plant we call wormwood cured people of the common aliment at the time of intestinal parasites/worms. But how to prepare it? Hyppocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, championed a new healing beverage using alcohol (wine) soaked with wormwood and sweetened with Honey (which is an antibiotic). Folk remedies call for it to be macerated in water to make a tea for consumption, but the most successful were macerations using alcohol. We now know why, because thujone is oil-soluble, and oil and water do not mix, but alcohol is able to dissolve oil and water based compounds. Eventually over the years, as knowledge increased due to experimentation, it was discovered that a macerate made using alcohol, which later had the volume of alcohol reduced either by evaporation or distillation created a concentrate of thujone-rich wormwood essence. So instead of having to consume (let's say) a volume of 1/2 ltr of fresh leaves either by water maceration of by eating, one could take a few drops of a wormwood concentrate to achieve the same medicinal effects. What are people going to choose? A few drops, whose unpleasantness will last just a few seconds? Or a 1/2 ltr of unpleasant tasting leaves or tea?
It is also important to know the evolution of the medical profession. Every population center has its own healer. Either a spirit doctor or shaman in "traditional" cultures or Doctors in Western cultures. The only means for healing at the time were from natural sources: plants, herbs, animal organs, etc. Doctors, or any healer, would want to know how to use the natural resources around him to cure the population. In order to supplement their income, many Medical Professionals (Doctors/ later developed into the new professions of Pharmacists/Druggists) developed their own "cures" also known as at one time in the US as "patent medicines", but better described by the term ELIXIR. Getrich quick schemers tried to cash-in by producing cheap frauds (sound familiar?) and these men were labelled "snake oil salesmen" in the USA. Because of their claim that their healing elixir contained "snake oil", a claim similar to containing "bird's teeth".
Most liqueurs of today were originally created by healers as a means for treating an ailment. Monks were a frequent source of healing elixirs in Europe and some of their beverages exist to this day. The word Whiskey is the present day pronunciation of the Gaelic term for the "water of life". In fact alcohol was referred to in Every major European language as "the water of life", it still exists to this day in Scandinavia as the alcoholic beverage "Aquavit" (aqua=water vit=life). As you can see, some traditions (and examples./proof) exist to this day.
How does this relate to Absinthe? It is claimed that a Doctor Ordinaire created the first absinthebased alcoholic beverage. Personally I haven't seen any proof of this, but I have no reason to doubt it, it in fact supports my narrative. As we know, Doctors were creating elixirs to supplement their income (I even have a historical handbook for Doctors which states this), Dr. Ordinare noticed that wormwood thrives in his mountain valley same as it thrives in my mountain valley. He knew that if he made a macerate of the plant and then reduced the alcohol he would have a concentrate, and then realized that if he used sweet and aromatic herbs he could mask the bitterness of the wormwood and would have something like the modern day "sugar coated pill". He could sell the healing properties of wormwood, but in a form that was not unpleasant - it had the potential to be a big success.
So his goal was to create a pleasant tasting elixir that cured one of the daily problem of intestinal worms. (If you look back, alcohol (spirit) was not consumed as it is today for the purpose of being drunk, it wasn't produced or made available to the general public is such quantities, alcohol/spirit was viewed as a healing compound, the "water of life" it wasn't until the industrial revolution allowed for mass production did it become associated with negative aspects). People could take a shot / dosage of Dr. Ordinaire's elixir and be cured of intestinal worms and it didn't taste bad, but tasted good! In fact it tasted so good people people started to take two or 3 shots "just in case I have a real stubborn worm inside" one could rationalize. And now THE KEY POINT. Thujone was essential for the curing of tape worms because it rendered the worm unconscious, AND it has the SIDE-EFFECT of being a psycho-active compound for humans. So as you were "curing" yourself of intestinal worms, you also got a dose of a pyscho-active compound that would have changed your consciousness - because you only experience the world through your own senses, if you change how those senses give information to the brain (psycho-active compounds increase the flow neurotransmitters) you will change how one perceives the world around them, this is the origin of the hallucinogenic myth. In the period of 1700-1800's there was not the same amount of psycho-active compounds available for the general public as today: sugar, tea, coffee, tobacco (nicotine & caffeine). Products containing these psychoactive compounds are now consumed daily in nearly all of the prepared food products made in modern society. We are so used to them, we don't even notice their effects and we take them for granted. Well at the time Absinthe was first made, these psych-active products were a luxury for the most wealthy, the average-Joe wasn't able to have his brain stimulated the way we are accustomed to today (and aren't even aware of). It would have been a huge eye-opening experience to drink a few shots of worm-curing elixir and start having your brain increase its mental activity. THIS SIDE EFFECT is what brought it to the attention of the creative types in society for the simple fact that they work with their brains to create, and to increase the mental activity in the brain would help them with their work. Like steroids help athletes. As creative types create the world around us by creating music, literature, science, architecture, theatre, dance, fashion, etc, what they themselves did and acted would naturally be copied by the general public. They were the trend setters. This model of human behavior was directly copied by the present day "absinthe revival". I know because I directly supplied them absinth (to the USA).
So, in conclusion, people have been consuming wormwood all over the world and for thousands of years for the fact that it contains thujone which rids the body of intestinal worms by rendering them unconscious. A side effect of consuming thujone is that it increases the activity of neural transmitters in the brain which causes an increase in the mental activity in the brain also called increasing psychoactivity. This state of increased mental activity was desired by creative types who work with their brain as it gave them a boost - just like coffee or a cigarette. The general population, taking their cues from the creative types, engaged in the same behaviour and thus a new fashion or trend is created. Thujone and its psychoactive property was and is key to the reason people consume wormwood based products. And to state otherwise, or pretend this is not the case shows total ignorance of history, the English Language, and the medical profession. So to state that absinthe is not about thujone is like saying tobacco is not about nicotine or tea and coffee is not about caffeine, or chocolate is not about cacao (another psychoactive plant), or a candy bar is not about the sugar (another psychoactive compound), or whisky and vodka are not about ethanol. It is more than absurd, more than ridiculous, it shows total ignorance to just about everything that creates society and culture.
Our company philosophy is to remind the public of the original reason for consuming spirit-based drinks, including absinth: to improve one's health. Unfortunately, this original reason has been forgotten by the modern public, as well as destroyed on purpose by Marketing & Greed.