Medicinal use of the wormwood plant can be traced back to the pharaohs of Egypt. The ancient Greeks used it. And in 1597, British herbalist John Gerard had this to say about the perennial plant, “Wormewood voideth away the wormes of the guts.”
The first commercial absinthe, which takes its name from the wormwood plant’s scientific binomial signature, Artemisia absinthium, was developed in 1792 by a French doctor living in Switzerland.
Dr. Pierre Ordinaire believed in the healing properties of wormwood. And distilled it alongside herbs like fennel in an alcoholic base in order to create a kind of cure-all elixir.
He travelled the countryside with his new potion, where it was a hit with local residents. Popular for its potency, it wasn’t long before absinthe was in high demand, less as a medicine and more as an aperitif.
The flavor profile of good absinthes varies often enough. But they should always be nuanced. The presence of fennel and anise can produce notes of licorice root. But they ought to be subtle.
Depending on what other herbs and botanicals are included in the recipe, an absinthe can be light and floral. Or earthy and pleasantly bitter.
Lemon balm is used in many recipes, adding citrusy whispers and hints of mint. Coriander might provide warmth and nuttiness. Spearmint delivers sweetness and the addition of dried flowers will give an absinthe some extra spice.
People have delighted in absinthe for centuries. There are rituals designed around how to prepare, serve and sip it.
On its own, absinthe is best when heavily diluted with water and sweetened with sugar. A sugar cube is placed on specially designed “absinthe spoons” that fit across the rim of an absinthe or similarly-stemmed glass.
Cold water is then slowly poured over the sugar cube as it dissolves into the spirit below. The traditional water-to-absinthe ratio is three to five parts water for every one part absinthe.