Top 10 drinking myths, legends and ancient rituals

The Green Fairy

Of all the spirits of the world absinthe is perhaps the most beguiling. The anise-flavoured spirit derived from botanicals, including the flowers and leaves of Artemisia absinthium (“grand wormwood”), together with green anise, sweet fennel, and other medicinal and culinary herbs, traditionally is green in colour and has long been referred to as “la fée verte” (the green fairy).

Popular with bohemian crowds, the spirit became known for its apparent psychoactive and hallucinogenic properties due to the chemical thujone, which is found in absinthe in trace amounts. It is found in grand wormwood, and although toxic is not proven to have psychedelic effects. You would die of alcohol poisoning before consuming enough thujone to reach toxic levels.

By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in much of Europe, including France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria-Hungary. While it’s now believed that its psychoactive properties were greatly exaggerated, moral hysteria surrounding absinthe at the time saw the spirit blamed for a number of heinous crimes.

The most notorious was that of Jean Lanfray a French laborer living in Switzerland, who in 1905  was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two children in a drunken rage. Police later revealed that he had drunk seven glasses of wine, six glasses of Cognac, one coffee laced with brandy, two crème de menthes, and two glasses of absinthe after eating a sandwich. But due to the panic surrounding absinthe in Europe at that time, his murders were blamed solely on the influence of absinthe, leading to a petition to ban absinthe in Switzerland, which proved successful. At his trial, Dr. Albert Mahaim, a leading Swiss psychologist, testified that Lanfray suffered from “a classic case of absinthe madness”. Three days after the trial, on 26 February 1906, Lanfray committed suicide by hanging in his prison cell.

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