There’s something romantic about absinthe — that naturally green liquor derived from wormwood and herbs like anise or fennel. Vincent Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde drank it. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pablo Picasso filled the glasses of cafe patrons with absinthe in their paintings. Absinthe was a drink of aesthetes.
Yet it was not art, but necessity that first helped popularize absinthe: It was included in the rations of French soldiers who marched off to colonize Algeria in the 1840s. As Betina Wittels and Robert Hermesch write in Absinthe: Sip of Seduction, French army doctors issued absinthe to soldiers “for the prevention of fevers and treatment of dysentery.”