Absinthe: the strangest legends about the Green Fairy

Absinthe is a plant with great medicinal properties, from which a liqueur is obtained which in history has been imbued with connotations and even “mystical” legends, given its intoxicating effects.

Absinthe is a bitter plant known since ancient times and used as a drink by the Romans, but also by the French for its heady and hallucinogenic qualities. Around the absinthe there are many legends, let’s see some.

There are many properties and many uses of absinthe as a natural remedy, but not free from various contraindications. We remember, among many others, its properties in the tonic and digestive field thanks to absintin, still absinthe is useful in the form of an infusion to stimulate appetite, counteract the drop in energy and give greater sprint to the body or as a support to immunitary defense.

Among the other properties recognized by the absinthe plant are its anti-inflammatory, antispasmotic, stimulating properties against the nervous system, febrifuge, antiseptic and anti-worming.

Absinthe had been banned almost all over the world at the beginning of the 1900s, and from that moment a series of legends began around this drink, first of all that of the Green Fairy (as absinthe is called ) as a dangerous drug with strange powers. In fact, absinthe has no amazing effect, and the reasons that led to the ban were of a completely different nature. Today, however, a European directive has officially made it legal.

Among the many legends that revolve around absinthe, there are some related to the plant. It was once said that by putting a few leaves of mugwort in your shoes in the morning you could do many kilometers without effort or even if kept at home, you would chase away evil spirits.

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  • The legend of the green fairy
  • The Green Fairy according to Oscar Wilde
  • The Lanfray case of 1905
  • “L’Absinthe”: the painting by Edgar Degas
  • Absinthe: why has it been banned for so long?

The legend of the green fairy

Absinthe in 1800 earned the name of Green Fairy because according to legend this drink had managed to enchant cursed poets and impressionist painters. Among the many Verlaine, Degas and Picasso, who are said to have found in the absinthe the spark for genius strokes and wonderful works of art. But not only, since the drink was marketed for its healing properties, it was considered as a magic potion thanks also to its emerald green color.

According to a first version, absinthe has been prohibited for many years because of thujone, a terpene present in the essential oil of the arthemisia plant, which would cause delirium tremens and madness. In reality, however, it is impossible to get intoxicated by drinking absinthe since the maximum limit it can contain does not exceed 30-40 mg / kg.

The Green Fairy according to Oscar Wilde

As we said, absinthe was the icon of bohemian living, the favorite companion of artists and writers such as Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Ernest Hemingway and many others. Oscar Wilde, referring to the glasses drunk with water and sugar, wrote:

“A glass of absinthe, there is nothing more poetic in the world … What is the difference between a glass of absinthe and a sunset? The first stage is that of the normal drinker, the second one in which you begin to see monstrous and cruel things but, if you persevere, you will reach the third level, the one in which you see the things you want, strange, wonderful things ”

The Lanfray case of 1905

Then there is another story related to the ban on absinthe:

“1905, Vaud, Switzerland. Jean Lanfray, a 31-year-old farmer, spends a night drinking everything: cognac, mint cream, wine, brandy and … 2 (!) Glasses of absinthe. He comes home staggering into the night. It hisses and grunts as it swerves. Once at home he has difficulty opening the door; his wife feels him stirring in the bolt, gets out of bed, sees him drunk drenched and thus begins a furious quarrel. Calm returns only late at night. Two lead bullets, for the farmer Jean Lanfray, are worth the conjugal serenity. After shooting his wife, Lanfray repeats the gesture on his children. ”

After this episode there was a collection of signatures to ban absinthe, but over time other myths have been dispelled, such as the one that was born in the Czech Republic, in reality the drink is Swiss and created by a French doctor. Then there is the whole question related to the sugar cube.

The traditional method involved placing a lump of sugar on a spoonful of absinthe, and dripping cold water through the lump and into a glass, which would create a turbidity called “la louche”. Absinthe connoisseurs say that sugar was used in the past to cover the bitter taste of poor quality absinthe; lumps of burnt and caramelized sugar distort the taste even more.

“L’Absinthe”: the painting by Edgar Degas

As evidence of the use of absinthe-based drink and its effects there is a famous painting by Edgar Degas, which is found in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, entitled “L’Absinthe” (Absinthe), of 1876. The painting set in the Café de la Nuovelle Athènes in Place Pigalle, represents two characters, the engraver Marcellin Desboutin and the actress Ellen Andrée , famous at the time of the painter, who drink the absinthe-based liqueur and highlights the stunning effect. The work was seen as a denunciation of the plague of absinthe which will be precisely banned.

Absinthe: why has it been banned for so long?

Absinthe, the Green Fairy, has helped to build myths, but according to Assenzio Italia, there were three reasons that led to the ban on absinthe: the fact that, being the most drunk alcohol, it lent itself well to becoming the scapegoat to target alcoholism; the contrast with the lobbies of producers of wine spirits , worried about the substantial market shares they had lost due to the absinthe and the filoxera epidemic that had hit the vines by decimating them, and powerful enough to put pressure on the government for the purpose to eliminate a dangerous competitor.

Furthermore, the presence of products of poor quality and highly harmful to health labeled under the name of absinthe, and widely spread in the poorest population thanks to very low prices. Everything else was artfully constructed to discredit absinthe.


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