Absinthe is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from wormwood, anise, fennel, and other herbs. Absinthe is a very strong alcoholic beverage that is usually diluted with ice water and melted sugar before drinking. In good quality absinthe, with actual plant oils, ice water makes the absinthe turn from green (or sometimes dark brown) to milky white. The oils are fats that solidify when exposed to cold temperatures.
The absinthe drinking craze in the mid-1800s caused the quality of the drink to decline. When it was first produced it was sort of a holy bitter aperitif (like to vermouth and chartreuse) related to good health. It was supposed to stimulate the imaginative faculties as well as the spiritual faculties and to facilitate one’s power of transformation. Many artists, poets, and visionaries of the time were absinthe-drinkers and one of the most famous of these is Aleister Crowley. Unfortunately, the sheer number of herbs in absinthe and the public’s demand that the drink be green when food coloring was just entering its early stages of development caused a steady decline in quality. It soon became difficult to find true absinthe and some of the fakes were near toxic. The naturalization of North American herbs in Europe (especially France) that were most probably mistaken for other herbs that were supposed to be included in the recipe, and the addition of poisonous copper sulfate to lend the drink a bright green hue turned the green fairy into the green devil for many people. The sugar cubes fashionably placed on top of the absinthe at the time might have been cut with liquid opium or cocaine as well.
Prohibition in the western world existed in the United States and some parts of Europe as a largely Christian movement to purify the body and protect virtue. Prohibitionists wanted to do away with alcohol, cocaine, white sugar, coffee, opium, and prostitution. That list is in no particular order except that the first three are associated with absinthe, which was a favorite of the prohibitionists. It was thought to be a substance that could destroy the mind, making the virtuous into sinners, making the sane become mad.
Absinthe is purported to be highly addictive and to have psychoactive properties, commonly believed to be caused by the thujone content, from the wormwood, although it only contains trace amounts. Absinthe was banned in the US and parts of Europe due to its reputation but has enjoyed a revival since the 1990s when the European Union adopted new food and beverage laws. While it is illegal to import any alcoholic beverage containing wormwood or thujone into the United States and the FDA does not allow wormwood in any product to be sold for human consumption, absinthe has returned to the liquor store and bar shelves, it simply lacks its signature thujone.