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The Practical Herbalist


Recent changes in federal law will for the first time since 1912 allow the sale and consumption of absinthe in the United States. This alcoholic beverage has a fascinating history and was the focus of myth and legend in literature and the social scenes of the rich and powerful people of the Victorian era. All from a concoction that has its roots in herbal medicine.

The ingredient considered most important in absinthe is wormwood (artemisia absinthium). Wormwood has been used for a variety of medical conditions since ancient times. The herb is very bitter and pungent, and was used in many conditions where the dynamics of the body required opening and clearing. This included stomach problems, edema, tumors and parasites as well as promoting labor late in pregnancy.

The absinthe beverage, as opposed to the medicine, was allegedly invented in 1792. A french physician, fleeing the French revolution, found himself in Switzerland and began experimenting with wormwood and other herbs as part of his medical prac- tice. He developed the herbal recipe and it caught on as a drink rather than a medicine. (This movement from medicine to recreational use is prevalent in history, opium/ morphine, Coca Cola, tea, and coffee are but a few examples) It grew in popularity, and like many things was used to excess. Absinthe seemed to have a greater effect on people than most alcohols, which added to its mystery and popularity. It was called "The Green curse of France" and was eventually banned in many places.

The colorful past of absinthe is sure to provide a great marketing advantage as the beverage is brought back. The only concern is that the main ingredient wormwood is known to be a uterine stimulant and to be teratogenic, which means that pregnant women would be at a slight increased risk of miscarriage and or birth defects from the consumption of absinthe during pregnancy. It is hard to say whether this will be a prob- lem, since the concentration of wormwood is not high and most women who are pregnant avoid alcohol. There are also many common chemicals in our environment which can have the same effects. It will however be interesting to see how this legendary drink fairs in the modern world.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066