Backyard Entheogens: Absinthe
The Green Fairy takes flight
Wormwood—as Artemisia absinthium is more commonly called—is an upright brushy rather nondescript-looking plant found every place humans choose to live. Common throughout parts of Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa, it can be easily grown from its small seeds, preferring dry and not particularly rich soil. Despite its plebian growing conditions, this plant is a prince among intoxicants. In addition to making a fine smoking product, this plant is the source of the semi-mythical absinthe drink—the green fairy beverage famed by the impressionist artists Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh and Edouard Manet.
Absinthe is an alcoholic beverage created from a mélange of herbs including wormwood. Absinthe making dates to the 15th century in Europe, although the popularization of the drink is linked to the building of the Pernod factory in France around 1800. Absinthe lovers believe the unique high from this licorice-tasting drink—derived from its thujone component—gives greater clarity and a heightened state of mind. Certainly it is a high worthy of exploration.
Thujone is found in a number of wormwood species—Artemisia absinthium or Common Wormwood, Artemesia pontica called Roman Wormwood and a number of other species (A. austiaca, A. brevifolia, A. coerulescens, A. klotzchiana, A. maritime, etc.). Thujone is a psychoactive and possibly hallucination-producing essential oil. It generates a high distinctive from alcohol. Interestingly a few other alcoholic beverages also contain thujone: Vermouth, Chartreuse and Bénédictine. In fact, wormwood in German is wermuth, which is where the drink Vermouth got its name.
Exactly how thujone affects the human brain is a question not yet explained. The thujone “high” may be a result of stimulation to the same brain receptor sites that THC affects. On the other hand, more recent evidence has suggested that thujone is acting through another as yet unidentified mechanism. Either way I am pleased to report that smoking a bit of cannabis with a sip of absinthe works very well.
Dried wormwood can be smoked alone or in smoking blends. It works very well with pot and it quite complimentary. The eminent psychonaut Jonathan Ott and Beat poet Dale Pendell have both reported on their successful smoking experiences. Clearly the material is psychoactive, but despite these reports wormwood smoking remains little explored by the public.
Thujone, a psychoactive terpene, is found in Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).
While smoking is an option, most wormwood is utilized by making it into an absinthe drink. There exists a plethora of fine absinthe making recipes both of the simple variety (steeping wormwood and other herbs in an alcohol) and of the complex variety whereby wormwood and herbs are heated in alcohol involving a distilling process.
While wormwood is totally legal to possess and is not scheduled in North America, the production of distilled alcohol products is not legal. Thus the creation of distilled absinthe in one’s home is illegal. The making of absinthe via the simpler method may not be illegal, although in the twisted world of America’s War on Drugs this may not be the same as saying it is legal. Furthermore, real thujone-containing absinthe has been illegal to buy for human consumption in the United States since 1912, being regulated by the FDA on the basis of its containing the psychoactive component thujone. “Thujone-free” absinthe was made legal in the United States in 2007, but consuming it produces no psychoactive effects. Nonetheless, a number of European firms (Spanish, Czech, etc.) make and export to all points North American, so it can be bought on the Internet with little difficulty. Thus the legal question is a great deal muddy and a simple answer to “Is it illegal?” may not be possible.
Even so, wormwood is definitely not scheduled nor is it a controlled substance like pot. It also gets very little attention from the authorities, although is occasionally seized by U.S. Customs but that is generally the limit of legal action. Real thujone-containing absinthe is illegal for human consumption but legal to possess for “personal purposes” and the wise shaman understands this distinction.
Furthermore, one can order good quality wormwood (essential) oil from a number of companies of which can be used to make substantial wormwood intoxicants or a kind of absinthe. Please be aware that some of the essential oils can be quite strong containing significant amounts of pharmacologically active compounds that can be absorbed through the skin. Be aware that too much thujone in the system can cause a plethora of health problems, including restlessness, possible vomiting, kidney failure, convulsions, etc. Be especially careful when working with essential oils. And like all good things, you can have too much of it so moderation is key.
Whether obtaining wormwood from your backyard or from the Internet, or utilizing it for the production of absinthe, all these products should be stored in an airtight non-metallic container away from sunlight, and will keep for a very long time.
Jonathan Ott noted in his book Pharmacotheon that he tried smoking dried wormwood and found it to be definitely psychoactive. Dale Pendell repeated those experiments with the same results as reported in Pharmako/Poeia.
For additional entheogen resources: www.iceers.org
Muraco Kyashna-tochá is a cultural anthropologist with over 50 years of experience exploring the nether regions of her mind with entheogens. She is an award-winning educator and a recognized medical cannabis advocate with extensive experience working on medical cannabis legislation in Washington State.
For more from Muraco Kyashna-tochá go to: www.muraco.org
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