The Green Fairy

The PSP blog has covered many topics, ranging from the culture and history of the Czech people to be benefits of study abroad programs. Today’s entry will focus on an interesting cultural artifact that is perfectly legal in Prague, one that you’ve likely seen referenced in 19th and 20th century literature. If you’re an adventurous type and you decide to come along with us to the city of Prague for your European study abroad program, you’ll have the opportunity to try Absinthe.

Nicknamed the “Green Fairy” for its color and effects, Absinthe was invented in the late 18th century. It is a licorice flavored alcoholic beverage that contains wormwood. It’s the wormwood (vermouth in German) and its high alcohol content that gives the drink its hallucinogenic properties (I say hallucinogenic, though the chemical that’s in wormwood that is a hallucinogenic, thujone, is present in such low doses that the drink won’t really cause you to see much of anything). From Arthur Rimbaud to Édouard Manet (see his painting, “The Absinthe Drinker”), Absinthe has been enjoyed by many great artists seeking otherworldly or mind-altering experiences. Now, we don’t recommend trying Absinthe without caution—a hallucinogen is a hallucinogen, after all—but, if used in moderation, Absinthe can provide a welcomed change of scenery, inspiration, and enjoyment.

If you’re interested in seeing a bit of Absinthe’s history and connection to the arts, PSP recommends checking out the work of Baudelaire, Alfred Jarry, Oscar Wilde, and Hemingway. Hemingway first tried Absinthe when he was working as a journalist in the 1920s. Absinthe made it into a few of his greatest novels, and he even invented his own Absinthe cocktail, which was a combination of Absinthe and champagne.

In the 20th century, Absinthe became popular in the bohemian inspired US cultures based in San Francisco and New Orleans. Absinthe with high enough thujone content was banned in the US for roughly 100 years, but the drink was declared legal in 2007.