Green Fairies, Yellow Fairies: Wormwood & Damiana Sisters

in #steempress2 years ago (edited)

Are you familiar with the green fairy? Le Fee Verte was affectionately and perhaps reverently (for you don’t mess with fairies) to the potent wormwood brew drunk by poets and artists in the 19th century.

Viktor Oliva Absinthe Drinker

A metaphor for artistic inspiration, free states of mind and a changing social order, she was a symbol of a thirst for life, transformation and creativity.

Paul Verlaine drinking absinthe in Paris.

“For me, my glory is a humble, ephemeral Absinthe.” – Verlaine

Transformation is the absolute essence of Le Fee – because to drink her, the drink must first transform in a magical ritual, from an extraordinary green to cloudy greenish white. As the water liberates the power of the oil of wormwood and its other ingredients, so too do new ideas, concepts and notions be set free in the mind of the artist who imbibes it.

Le Fee Verte: To drink wormwood, one pours ice cold water over a sugar cube placed on a special absinthe spoon until the sugar dissolves in the drink.

Under the influence of the green fairy, the avant garde elite of Paris became commentators on the new world, just as the subculture of hippies in the ’60’s became the voice of decades later. The parellels between LSD and wormwood are dazzlingly clear – wormwood taken internally is also an hallucinogenic. Yet many parellels can be made to all kinds of drugs across the decades – each decade, it seems, has it’s drug of choice that is both a muse and a demon.

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” – Oscar Wilde

Whilst polite society shied away from the apparent decadence of absinthe, many revelled in le green heurte (the green hour, where absinthe the smell of it in cafes wafted out onto the streets) – Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso and Oscar Wilde amongst its adorers.

“A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?” – Oscar Wilde

Yet absinthe was seen as madness – the scourge of Europe, responsible for madness, immorality and the general downfall of France in a poisoning of the population – so under the sway of the green fairy, decriers declared, that France could only be saved if they were rid of it. Of course, social decline or at least transformation was happening anyway with an emerging industrialization and other changes that were rattling the nation. How does one cope with rapid change but to find a scapegoat for it? It’s not an uncommon turn of events.

Dega’s painting ‘L’Absinthe’ challenged the traditional ideas about woman in society – one critic called this subject a ‘whore’.

Valentin Magnan, physician-in-chief of Sainte-Anne, France’s main asylum, was the national authority on mental illness and he contributed to the belief that madness was a a result of decline in French culture. Absintheeism was seen as a part of this and distinct from alcoholism:

In 1869 he published results of an experiment designed to do just that. He placed one guinea pig in a glass case with a saucer of pure alcohol. A second guinea pig got its own case and a saucer of wormwood oil. Two other cases contained a cat and a rabbit, both with saucers of wormwood oil. As Magnan watched, the three animals inhaling wormwood fumes grew excited and then fell into seizures. The alcohol-breathing animal merely got drunk.

The mice were possibly overdosing on thujone, the main chemical in wormwood, of which absinthe is made. However, it is more likely that they were drinking inferior alcohol with adulterants such as chloride and copper sulfate – and worse, ethanol, because to keep wormwood in solution means you need more than 50 percent of alcohol by volume. The mice, like the men and woman dying of ‘absintheeism’ were likely just dying of chronic alcoholism.

Anti-absinthe sentiment reached frenzied peaks with a murder in Switzerland in 1905 by a French speaking labourer:

Lanfray had drunk his way through the previous day, beginning near dawn with a shot of absinthe diluted in water. A second absinthe shot soon followed. At lunch and during his afternoon break from work at a nearby vineyard, he downed six glasses of strong wine. He drank another glass before leaving work. Heading home, Lanfray stopped at a café and drank black coffee with brandy. Back home Lanfray finished a liter of wine as his wife watched in disgust. She called him lazy. He told her to shut up. She told him to make her. He took his loaded rifle from the wall and shot her through the forehead. When his daughter Rose came to investigate, he shot her too. Then he went into the next room, walked to the crib of his other daughter, Blanche, and shot her.

Devastated, he hanged himself in prison three days after his trial. And thus the le fee verde became le diable vert – the green devil – and banned in Switzerland in 1905 and other countries, including the U.S, following suit.

Thus, it’s been banned for nearly a century. Today you can find genuine absinthe in many places over the world, despite myths that say ‘you can’t get it with wormwood anymore’. A quick search online dispels this myth – in Switzerland, for example, you can find absinthe brewed from the holy trinity of wormwood, anise and fennel seeds. Recipes might include other various aromatic plants such as lemon balm or hyssop. As the fitting mice will attest, however, it wasn’t so much the amount of wormwood that will make you hallucinate, but the amount of alcohol.

Green Muse by Albert Maignan

Many nights in the Czech Republic where I ignored my warnings to self of the night before and ended up drinking the green juice, which ended in hallucinogenic experiences on dark cobbled lanes, was perhaps not the green fairy, therefore, but the excess consumption of alcohol that went with it. Still, they were nights spent in thrall, and I want to believe in her, winging her way to my shoulder as walked home, full of creativity and ecstasy.

Damiana As Wormwood’s Sister: A Contemplation

La fée jaune? To me, if Absinthe is the Green Fairy, then Damiana Liquer is the yellow fairy…

Absinthe was not always a green devil – it’s key ingredient was used by the Greeks as a medicine, soaking artemia absenthium in spirits to supposedly aid childbirth, and Hippocrates prescribed it for period pain, anaemia and rhemeutism. During the bubonic plague, the English used to burn wormwood to fumigate their houses. In the 1830’s expansion of the French into North Africa it was used to ward off insects and prevent fever – the fact it ended up as a cheap alternative to wine and a muse of poets from here doesn’t take much imagination. More recently wormwood has been studied for it’s ability to combat malaria and cancer.

Like wormwood, damiana too is a medicine. Long believed to be a folk medicine, it is heralded as an aphrodisiac – in Mexico, they make an aphrodisiac liqueur from it. It’s also known to help with anxiety (this writer can attest to that!) and may have analgesic qualities. Whilst some articles call it a ‘herbal hoax’ which could be paralleled to the ‘hoax’ of absinthe (did it really stimulate ideas, or was this just the alcohol talking?), later science has proved there is merit in the belief damiana could be an aphrodisiac (see links below).

Egon Shciele: The Embrace. Damiana is often touted as the ‘lover’s herb’

Yet there’s another sisterly link with absinthe. It’s use in synthetic cannabis has caused authorities and the media to feel concern and the focus has been on the low levels of cyanide-like compounds which can cause excessive doses to be dangerous. However, remember ethanol? It’s not the damiana itself that’s to blame, but an unregulated market that may use any number of other dangerous substances in the mix. Reported side effects of synthetic cannabis have been agitation, blood pressure increase, heart attacks and kidney damage, paranoia and weight loss. I’m not an expert on this by any means but to me, it seems that the isolated herbs in these synthetic drugs can often become a scapegoat due to a lack of real understanding of their power and magic. There is often an unfair stigma attached to herbs that cause it to become feared in society.


Bans on legal highs (the name for herbal alternatives like ecstasy or cocaine) in places like the U.K stem from isolated cases of deaths and overdoses. Forget about the terrible toll of opoid addiction and other more socially legitimate highs such as alcohol (in both Australia and the UK, 4.5 percent of deaths annually can be attributed to alcohol) – let’s ban something that society doesn’t understand because there’s been little to no research done on them. A cry to ban alcohol certainly didn’t happen when this year, a teenage girl died in a Sydney hospital with a lethal amount of booze in her system from consuming large amounts of alcohol. The health system is still prescribing pills that lead to suicide, addiction and a host of other ills. And one would wonder, too, whether the legalization of long feared substances like cannabis might prevent this kind of thing in the first place.

The beautiful yellow fairy that is damiana is well loved in this household. Like her sister absinthe, our vodka soaked damiana is a powerful brew, evoking bliss and euphoria in a gentle and dreamy way. It sends us into an immediate state of well being and, drunk by candlelight and moonlight, increases inimacy, desire and sensation. Damiana tea helps sleep but also brings on lucid and erotic dreams.

Like the green fairy did with the poets long ago in France, damiana brings on my muse – I feel creative and stimulated by her.

Sources & Further Reading


wow! Just wow! Such a beautiful piece of writing @riverflows. I remember having to order a bottle of absinthe for my husband online because no one would carry it (or bring it in for me). I am planning to start growing it, so pretty with its silvery leaves. ♥♥♥

I have never dabbled with the yellow fairy but I think after reading this that I will have to. Just love this. ♥♥♥

Thankyou my love. Yes, we used to grow wormwood but it doesn't suit our garden so I let it die in the heat. You'll love damiana tea for sure!!!!

Lots of wormwood growing in my garden and I suddenly feel the urge to get a brew happening with some locally made rice spirit!! :) A WONDERFUL post, my dear @riverflows If I get on and get my batch happening over these christmas days, it shall be ready when you make your appearance. And then we can have some amazing "green juice" experiences! I think that's called a plan. LOL.

I used Steempress and it TOTALLY screwed up the aesthetics - desperately trying to rectify!! Brew away - sounds Christmassy!

Aaahh.... loving to hear that you are using steempress. After one day of actifit (hate it!) I decided steempress is much more my dapp of choice, since it builds on and optimizes my other x 2 blogs "out there". Nice to know there might be a real human I can ask sometime.... :) x

I'm still struggling alot. There's also a Discord server but they often can't really help and are awake at different times it seems. I've found it difficult - and to go and re-do all the formatting on this - eek. It'll be great for you though!

The whiz on steempress is @eftnow

Well it depends on your host. It's not just the plug in.

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I had some similar problems with steempress recently... what I end up doing is going into steempeak, drafting my post and then copy it (not from the editor but from the preview on the right side) and then paste it into my wordpress editor. It seems to work much better that way! And then I turn off the steempress setting to sync edits with steem so I can make tweaks on either end as needed. If you do that, just remind yourself not to publish in steempeak, like I did once and then missed out on a post being in the blog also :P

Oh THANK YOU ... I will try that!!!

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Now this is what I call a great post! I love the green fairy, not sure if I ever tried the yellow fairy, anyhow wormwood is good at cleaning out intestinal parasites... So it might be beneficial to consume just for health/scientific responsibly of course...


Ah yes I read that about intestinal parasites!! The wonders of these herbs never cease to amaze. Glad you liked it!!!

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I loved it, awesome post!

I love this, all the wonderful knowledge you shared with us, lots that I didn't know.I have used wormwood as a herb and send sweet wormwood to my sister. damiana I now want to get. Thank you for this magical article xxxx

💜💕I found out so much as I researched for this article... so interesting!!! I'm drinking a damiana tea right now.. who knows I might dream about Xavier Rudd haha xxx

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I remember Kylie Minogue being the Green Fairy in some movie.

Oh my goodness yes she was!!! Not how I pictured the green fairy but still....

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This is fascinating but as someone who has tired it many times, I just don't understand how so many people can get into it. It's like a once a year thing a best. The taste is terrible and if you accidentally drink too much you'll end up puking your brains out. I still fail to see how so many people fell in love with the Green Fairy...

Been there, done all that, all over.

But then again, it was commercial absinthe, not prepared appropriately, and I was 18, so...

What a great post @riverflows really enjoyed reading this, totally agree with your thoughts on damiana, absinthe doesnt sit well me as i cant handle much alcohol before im unconscious 😅 true light weight. Reading this was a fab start to my day

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Aw thanks so much. Your kind words mean more than you could know xx

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You were determined to leave us with a bang I see!! 😂 Suuuuuch an awesome article, the art in it was perfectly complementary as well, nicely done friend.
We love absinthe in our house. We get ours from Leopold bros in Denver, and they distill with the traditional herbs. It's deliiiicious, you can really taste the fennel come through and it louches great too.
They use wormwood, but they must use smallish amounts because we've never tripped on it, but I will say, it's a buzz unlike any other distilled liquor... It's much more giddy feeling, a very pleasant buzz that makes us chat about metaphysics and crap like Mandela effect for hours (not like we need the liquor to accomplish that feat 😂 but it tends to head that way every time).
Loved your comparison to the yellow fairy... I must try this damiola. We are looking for a pain relief alternative, as Kratom gets harder to get out here all the time. Plus I don't mind hearing about those aphrodisiac effects, and the sexy lucid dreams, wowza.
Love you, love this post, thanks for sharing this before ya dip out for the year! Have an amazing time. 😍🙏

Xx ToL

Oh gosh send me some of that!!! I'm not sure it's enough to trip you, I'm convinced those dudes were probably tripping on ethanol.. it totally rotted their brain. But a good absinthe is magical nonetheless and is quite the experience. Perhaps I will DM you about the wilder moments on absinthe 🧚‍♂️🧚‍♂️🧚‍♂️🙄😊☺

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Haha yusss pls moar stories! 😂

The drink of poets, eh? I must get on this one then! The quotes of Oscar Wilde are so beautiful! There is so much mystery shrouding this drink, it makes sense it was demonized and gave it a bad rep. Thanks for this awesome post, I learned so much!

La Fée Verte! So poetic.

As @thetreeoflife said.. it does bring out the muse! Wishful thinking or not, I have had pretty intense absinthe does seem to access something of that creative spark!! There's lots of amazing art and poetry about it.. such an interesting time historically.

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Well, like I mentioned in the discord, thujone is a pretty strong GABA agonist, so I can definitely see it being one hell of a muse!

I have yet to try damiana, as this is the first time I'm hearing about it. But absinthe I'm quite familiar with. In Berlin I used to drink one called "Versinthe", which despite it's name was completely clear until mixed with water. Then it would become cloudy milky colored. I enjoyed the feeling of creativity and euphoria it caused. Unlike alcohol I didn't lose my coordination, but it got me moving... being able to walk and talk through the whole night.
At the absinthe shop I used to buy it, the vendor explained to me that the green color came from the days when it was still legal in France, but not in Spain. So they smuggled it into the country in bottles of hair-tonic, with a green die added to make it fit the label. Though I don't know if this goes for absinthe in general, or just this Versinthe.

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This is great @riverflows. Thanks for sharing this well researched information and history. I love the artwork that you included for the "whole picture" of the story you are telling. Wonderful! I do enjoy learning from you :)

Isn't the artwork amazing? I wonder if there's any other herbal drink with such art attached to it!

Even Picasso did one!!

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How interesting and fun! Artists are wonderful.

Isn't the artwork amazing? I wonder if there's any other herbal drink with such art attached to it!

Even Picasso did one!!

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