Thujone; alpha and beta

Sepulchritude Forum: The Absinthe Forum Archives Thru July 2001: Old Topics Archived Thru Sep 2000:Thujone; alpha and beta
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Archive through June 6, 2000  3   06/06 06:14am

By tabreaux on Wednesday, June 14, 2000 - 06:24 am: Edit

Oops, I just realized that I got those two confused.

By van gogh on Tuesday, June 13, 2000 - 09:31 pm: Edit

Tansy is not more bitter than wormwood, not by a long shot. The only herb that can match wormwood in bitterness is ruta graveolens , or rue. In medieval Europe, there was a popular Easter dish called "tansy", which was a "rich, custardy pudding" made from tansy. Try cooking something with wormwood and see how it tastes....yum, yum.
The point to my thread, in fact, the question I rasied in the very first post, was: is it possible to make an absinthe with a touch of wormwood for flavoring, and to add other herbs such as sage and/or tansy for a higher thujone level??
and: Is there anyone out there who has ever tried it?

By tabreaux on Tuesday, June 13, 2000 - 04:59 pm: Edit

To answer your questions:

Distillation removes the tannins, toxins, bitter principles, etc. Even if you have distillation capability, this in no way (and I mean no way) guarantees that you will make anything drinkable regardless. So without regard to taste, assuming you steep an equivalent quantity of absinthium (as you would use in a distillation), the end result will be absolutely, positively unbearable. Therefore, in effect, there is no 'effect' for maybe an upset stomach at the least.

As I've indicated above, an equivalent distillation recipe cannot be applied to steeping and be anywhere near drinkable. So, as you can see, it can't be made 'full strength'.

If you use vodka, the reduction in alcohol concentration makes steeping that much less effective.

Tansy is even more bitter than absinthium. I don't know about sage.

By JKK on Tuesday, June 13, 2000 - 11:39 am: Edit

Sorry if I've spoken out of turn here. I think Van Gogh has brought up some interesting points. There seem to be these questions about do-it-yourself absinthe without distilling fairly often, and they get dismissed quickly. I had always heard that absinthe that hasn't been distilled is worthless, but now I wonder.
Let me restate some of his questions and I'll add a few of my own.

What exactly does distilling do for the EFFECT of absinthe? We know it improves the taste.

If one follows the recipe in the forum for absinthe, but eliminates the distilling would one still have full-strength absinthe, assuming one used high-proof spirit such as Everclear?

Would this absinthe made with Everclear taste worse than what you get if you use vodka? (If not, I think the taste is bearable, not good, certainly, but bearable.)

If one substituted sage for the wormwood, would the effect be the same, (again without distilling)?

What would be the plant of choice as a substitute for wormwood? Sage, tansy, white cedar(thuja), etc.? The ideal would be to have the same effect without the bitterness.

How do alpha and beta thujone differ in effect?

This might seem all beside the point to those with the capability of making their own absinthe, but remember, most of us don't have access to a still, and I think there are a lot of us out there who are ready to try something stronger than what is available on the internet.

Again, sorry for stating my opinions when I wasn't very informed myself!

By JKK on Monday, June 12, 2000 - 10:26 am: Edit

That's a valid point about high-proof. Try it and let us know. Still, I'm sceptical about anything regarding absinthe that sounds that easy. I don't think you can just throw some leaves into booze, come back a week later, and, voila!, have what Rimbaud and Van Gogh drank. if it were that simple, people wouldn't bother making stills or putting up with the weak effect of Spanish. True, distilling would improve the taste, but I'm sure many people would accept the harshness, if they could have full-strength absinthe with so little trouble.

By van gogh on Sunday, June 11, 2000 - 08:12 pm: Edit

Well, I know better than to steep anything in anything that is 80 proof. I steep in Everclear, which is 95 proof (nearly pure grain alcohol). Vodka and Pernod Pastis are only 40% alcohol, and that isn't a high enough alcohol content to extract either thujone nor any other herbal flavoring.

By JKK on Sunday, June 11, 2000 - 11:49 am: Edit

I've already stated my experiences before in this forum, but since the topic keeps coming up, maybe Van Gogh and others didn't see them. I've tried macerating wormwood in vodka and Pernod. The taste is bearable, I think, especially compared to Czech brands, but it produces no effect as far as I can feel. Maybe I'm wrong. I haven't done any research. All I go by is my own feeling. Adding wormwood extract, ("Nature's Apothecary" brand), sometimes gave me an effect, but adding the leaf itself didn't. I also tried thuja (white cedar) extract, which also gave me an effect. I'm not sure how safe the extracts are if taken in higher-than-recommended dosages. I tried "Herb Pharm" extract once, didn't get much of an effect, but woke up the next day feeling as if my kidneys had been pummelled. Since then, I've stuck with the absinthe I can get on the internet, (Spanish, La Bleue, Sebor). Sometimes I feel a little, (besides just the alcohol, of course), sometimes I don't. The bottom line is this: if it's not distilled, it's not absinthe. Make your own still, find someone who can make one for you or settle for what is available on the net. Anything else is a waste of time, and the extracts might not be safe.

By blackjack on Sunday, June 11, 2000 - 08:16 am: Edit

Wilhelm Reich WAS crazy...

(That doesn't mean he was totally wrong, mind you....)

By van gogh on Saturday, June 10, 2000 - 06:33 pm: Edit

Yes, lemon-catnip. Catnip with a scent and flavor like lemon balm (melissa). I have over 50 different varieties of herbs, and am willing to experiment....
....yes, too much wormwood will make one's stomach feel like "it was trod on by the whole russian army in their stocking feet" (to quote W.C. Fields). Which is why I was asking about sage and tansy...sage is not unpleasant to the taste, and has a high alpha-thujone level...not as much as wormwood, but hey, it doesn't have absinthin either....

By tabreaux on Saturday, June 10, 2000 - 04:30 pm: Edit

The numbers listed in the URL above to not jive with the numbers for absinthium in M. Baggots references, so I suspect that 'wormwood' is not absinthium.

As for making your own, you could never use anything but a tiny amount of absinthium, tansy, etc. in a steeped liquor, simply because it would be so bitter, that even if you could drink it, you'd have an upset stomach (if not more serious symptoms). Like I've said before, distillation removes the essences from the toxins. The only way a steeped product could be made drinkable is if it contains but a fraction of the herbal content of legitimate absinthe. Basically it would be an herbal tea with alcohol, and will have all of the funky vegetable flavors inherent to such a mixture. Needless to say, it won't be absinthe, but as you mentioned, neither are almost all of the Czech products. FWIW, aside from 'Absinth King'. Those products do not appear to be steeped. Even so, it appears as though they put herbs in the bottle to try to circumvent the thujone limit (thujone measured at the time of bottling). The result positively has to be nasty....and needless to say, it ain't absinthe.

By pauloconte on Saturday, June 10, 2000 - 03:59 pm: Edit

mr van gogh, you are a seriously crazy man (lemon

I applaud you. Remember, everyone thought Wilhelm
Reich was crazy too...

love to know how it turns out (if your lab doesn't
blow up i mean...), but make mine sans pee de goat
if you please- and careful with that Listerene

By van gogh on Saturday, June 10, 2000 - 03:56 pm: Edit

Yes. I know that. I said that. That is not what I was asking.

By chrysippvs on Saturday, June 10, 2000 - 01:28 pm: Edit

steep all you want....but it won't be absinthe....

By van gogh on Saturday, June 10, 2000 - 12:47 pm: Edit

Well, here is the page I was looking at:

As you can see on the chart a third/half the way down, it has wormwood as having little alpha-thujone, and high in beta-thujone, which is where I made my error...perhaps this person used another wormwood, like Silver King? I dunno...
And, yes, I know that the real stuff (i.e., distilled) is quite different from the steeped stuff. But there seems to be a lot of the steeped stuff on the market, unless (again!) I am gravely mistaken.
Let me clarify my position. I wish to make my own absinthe. I am not a chemist, and don't have the know-how or the money nor the equipment to distill the stuff...therefore, I am reduced to trying to make tinctures. I KNOW what I am trying to make isn't "real" absinthe, for the subtle blend of the herbal flavors is something that is beyond what I can accomplish by steeping. However, I feel I can come up with a product that is as good as, if not better, than many of the 'absinthes' on the market today, such as the Czech absinthes. I've read that a decent steeped absinthe is possible...some of the things I want to try are:
1. Soaking the wormwood in brine before steeping. Hey, it works for olives...yah, it'll make the absinthe a wee bit salty, but that is better than having it taste like a 25 year old bottle of Listerene that a goat peed in...
2. Using less wormwood, and more of another thujone-high herb such as sage...
3. Using a sweeter base such as white brandy, and sweeter herbs to flavor it, such as beebalm, and lemon-catnip (which is also a mild narcotic). Those are a few of my ideas...has anyone ever tried these? If so, I'd love to hear about the results...

By tabreaux on Saturday, June 10, 2000 - 08:35 am: Edit

No, according to M. Baggot ( absinthium is high in the levorotatory isomer (alpha), which is the active one.

Since you mentioned it, most modern commercial absinthes (especially the junk Czech brands) are nothing more than flavored vodka. On the other hand, there is at least as much in the way of constituents and fabrication methods which separates real absinthe from vodka as there is to separate scotch or bourbon from vodka.

To answer your question about adding other herbs, of course it can be done, as you can simply see for yourself in that you've answered your own question. I think where you are not on the same wavelength (i.e. the cause of the confusion) is that the main purpose of making absinthe is not normally to see how strong of a thujone cocktail can be made. The presence and concentration of thujone is incidental, and is indicative to the production method.

By Vangogh on Saturday, June 10, 2000 - 06:11 am: Edit

Here's the thujone breakdown for those who apparently don't know:
Environmental Occurrence: Thujone is found in nature as a constituent of essential oils where it exists as a mixture of the alpha- and beta-isomers (Micali & Lanuzza, 1995). Thujone levels in various essential oils are shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Thujone content in essential oils
Essential Oil alpha-Thujone % beta-Thujone % Total alpha & beta Reference
Cedar leaf 55.0 9.5 64.5 Pinto-Scognamiglio, 1967
Sage 28.3-- 14.5-- 42.5 55.17 Pinto-Scognamiglio, 1967 Farag et al., 1986
Tansy 19.4 58.0 77.4 Pinto-Scognamiglio, 1967
Wormwood 0.53-1.22 17.50-42.30 -- Lawrence, 1995
Thyme -- -- 0.2 Farag et al., 1986
Rosemary -- -- 4.17 Farag et al., 1986

As you can see, wormwood has only a trace of alpha-thujone, but is rather high is beta-thujone. Now, to again ask, and for someone to give me a reasonable answer, not sarcastic gibberish, what is the difference between alpha and beta-thujone? If alpha-thujone is the active ingredient, why then not "spike" absinte with an herb such as sage which has 20 times the alpha thujone that wormwood has?
As far as absinthe being "herbally flavored vodka", I stand by my statement. Vodka (the modern variety) is little more than watered-down grain alcohol. It cannot be called "vodka" over a certain proof (120? I think...) so the Absinthes such as Deva, which is only 90 proof, is just grain alcohol (read: vodka) distilled with herbs such as wormwood, lemon balm, hyssop, anise, etc. is essentially herb-flavored vodka....of course, if you want to think of it as herb-flavored kool-aid, I guess it's a free country....

By archangel on Saturday, June 10, 2000 - 01:36 am: Edit

There are also other herbs used!!!!! Remember.


By B.M.Don on Friday, June 09, 2000 - 08:41 am: Edit

"Against stupidity even the gods themselves struggle in vain!"

Absinthe without A.absinthium isn't absinthe.

Alpha-thujone is the active chemical in absinthe not beta thujone. The difference is 'only' a conformational one, but then everything else in chiral chemistry including BIOchemistry and NEUROchemistry is conformational and sterochemical.

To call absinthe "herbally flavored vodka" is so abysmally ignorant that I am at a loss for words.

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