The Virtual Absinthe Museum
Absinthe is a strongly alcoholic aperitif made from alcohol and distilled herbs or herbal extracts, chief amongst them grand wormwood (artemesia absinthium) and green anise, but also almost always including 3 other herbs: petite wormwood (artemesia pontica, aka Roman wormwood), fennel, and hyssop. Some regionally authentic recipes also call for additional herbs like star anise (badiane), sweet flag (aka calamus), melissa (aka lemonbalm or citronnelle), angelica (both root and seed), dittany (a type of oregano grown in Crete), coriander, veronica (aka speedwell), marjoram or peppermint. Grand and petite wormwood were historically cultivated near Pontarlier in the Doubs region of east France and in the adjoining Val de Travers in Switzerland.
High quality absinthes are always distilled rather than produced from herbal essences, and have a deliciously complex herbal and floral character, with an underlying bitterness caused by the wormwood. Well made absinthes are naturally coloured and generally pale green, but louche, or turn milky, when water is added. This is caused by the essential oils precipitating out of the solution, as the alcohol is diluted. Clear absinthes - often called La Bleue or La Blanche, and historically popular in Switzerland - are made without the final colouring step.
Almost from its inception, absinthe has been known as “La Fee Verte” or “The Green Fairy”, a tribute to its reputedly seductive and intoxicating powers.