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La Fee Verte (the green fairy) – December 2015

La Fee Verte (the green fairy) – December 2015 The Poisonous Properties of Absinthe and its Congeners

The Poisonous Properties of Absinthe and its Congeners.

(MM. Cadeac and Meunier Experimental Researches in Essences, Paris, 1892 appeared in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, May 3, 1894.)

The liqueur sold under the name of absinthe contains not only the essences of the plant from which it is derived, but divers other essences varying in kind and quantity.

Dr. Lunier presents a formula of three extracts of absinthe obtained by distillation, which are generally employed in commerce and known as fine, half-fine and ordinary. These portions are for five and a quarter gallons of absinthe.




Ordinary / Half-fine / Fine

  • Leaves and flowers of the great absinthe . 600 / 600 / 600
  • Leaves of little absinthe … .. / 200 / 125
  • Balm-mint (melisse) … 125 / 125 /200
  • Flowers of hyssop … 100 / 100 / 225
  • Angelica root … .. / 25 / ..
  • Green anise … 400 / 800 / 1000
  • Badiane … .. / 400 / 225
  • Fennel … .. / 250 / 850
  • Coriander … .. / 225 /225
  • Alcohol (85%) … 11,750 / 12,000 / 16,300
  • Water … 9,500 / 8,000 / 4,000
(Quantities in grammes.)

An infusion is made of these plants and seeds during twenty-four hours in a portion of the alcohol; it is then distilled with the water, and to the products is added the remainder of the alcohol and water. To obtain the green color indigo is often used, and is heightened with burnt sugar and saffron. A little alum is added to hold the color in suspension.

In the formula given there are three plants of the group which produce epilepsy, namely, absinthe, hyssop and fennel, and a plant of the stupefying group, the angelica.

The guinea-pigs utilized by MM. Cadéac and Meunier in studying the action of the vapor of the essence of hyssop, were victims of the incense of this poetic and biblical plant. In one instance it was administered solely by the respiratory organs. A guinea-pig placed under an observation bell glass, staggers, exhibits spasmodic convulsions, passes into extreme opisthosomas, and dies at the end of an hour and a half from having simply breathed the perfume of a few drops of the essence of hyssop. Another experiment consisted in injecting into the veins of a dog a few drops of the essence of hyssop, which resulted in a violent attack of epilepsy. Absinthe produced the same effect.

Four grammes of the essence of hyssop given upon an empty stomach suffices to kill a dog weighing sixteen pounds in thirteen hours. Six grammes will kill a dog of thirty-two pounds three hours after ingestion. One gramme will kill an animal weighing one hundred and fifty grammes. A man cannot absorb two grammes of this essence of hyssop without danger of falling in an attack of epilepsy. One gramme will cause numbness, ocular troubles and trembling. The essence of hyssop is then, like absinthe, a formidable poison.

The fennel, which Charlemagne commanded to be cultivated, and which the Russians, the Armenians and the Tartars consume as a salad as we do the onion and the water-cress, also figures in the series of plants which enter into the composition of absinthe. MM. Cadéac and Meunier, who have experimented with the essence of this plant upon divers animals, remark that the epileptogenic properties of the essence of fennel are unquestionable. Its activity is inferior to that of hyssop and absinthe, but it is far from innocuous.

Angelica-root, which is put in the category of the excito-stupefacients, is recognized as having the property of stimulating the mental faculties and the muscular energy. Its salutary effects, however, are transient: those that are dangerous soon become preponderant. The prolonged fatigue, the somnolence, the unconscious enfeeblement of all the faculties, are finally the certain inheritance of all who misuse it.

From these investigations Mr. Charles Mayet (Le Temps of Paris) concludes that we are amply justified in placing the liqueur of absinthe, compounded of the divers essences, among the poisonous drinks that are particularly dangerous.

Anise 80 grammes, orange peel 80 gr., calamint 80 gr., juniper berries 80 gr., sage 80 gr., great absinthe 60 gr., angelica 40 gr., mint 40 gr., lavender flowers 40 gr., clove 20 gr., alcohol (80 per cent.) 650 gr., sugar 600 gr., water 650 gr.

In this list, the absinthe and the angelica already known make their appearance.

For an analysis of the sage, the mint, and the lavender the previous authorities are again referred to. They tell us that the sage is a poisonous and epileptogenic factor. If a guinea-pig is put into an atmosphere saturated with the vapors oi this essence, the experiment is attended by all the successive symptomatic phases observed after the injection of small but strong quantities of this essential oil into the venous circulation of a dog: a lively excitation, sudden starts, shakings, muscular rigidity, drunkenness, a fall, and then epileptic convulsions.

(For more, read the original 1894 article.)