I stepped in it a few weeks ago when I rereported, as bloggers will, that absinthe was back. While IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m vaguely aware of the stuff and would like to try it sometime I had no idea that it engendered such passion. The controversy over absinthe hinges on something called thujone which is found in wormwood, an ingredient of absinthe. Thujone is, apparently, a hallucinogenic substance and the scapegoat for absintheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s alleged antisocial influence on its drinkers. Hey! I said alleged! Just calm down. (By the way, if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re interested in the US governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s current position on absinthe hereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an unusually readable circular that was put out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Use of the Term Absinthe for Distilled Spirits.Ã¢â‚¬Â)
But this entry isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t entirely about absinthe. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m reading a fascinating book called Beer Ã¢â‚¬â€œ The Story of the Pint by Martyn Cornell. Rather than retelling the same beer stories and legends again, as beer writers will, this is a proper history that relies on lovely historical sources such as archeological records and primary sources. The book focuses on the history of beer in Britain. From it I was interested to learn that some of the ancient alcoholic drinks were laced with hallucinogenic herbs such as henbane, deadly nightshade, hemlock.
Throughout history the primary use of this lovely bunch of these herbs has been poisoning. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re familiar with the play Hamlet youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll remember that HamletÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father was murdered by having a poison poured in his ear while he slept. Well, to quote the play it was Ã¢â‚¬Å“cursed hebenon in a vial.Ã¢â‚¬Â Deadly nightshade is so toxic that eating birds and rabbits that have fed on its berries has killed people. And hemlock is a well known poison.
Now, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t try this as home but taken in small enough doses these poison plantsÃ‚Â merely cause hallucinations. Their hallucinogenic abilities are so powerful that a salve made containing deadly nightshade and henbane when rubbed on the arms is absorbed by the skin and creates a sensation of flying. Residue of these plants has been found in 5,000 year old fermentation vessels that were used to make honey-beer called bracket or braggot. Cornell says that it is most likely that it was reserved for religious purposes.