MIGHTY HISTORY

Best medics ever: These docs gave absinthe

Everyone wants something from their friendly neighborhood medic: opiates, tourniquets, a quick peek at that rash on their junk. But French Foreign Legion troops could get an additional bit of medicine from their quartermaster or doc: absinthe or quinine-laced wine.

So, was it just that the French knew how to party better than any other army? Or was it that the Legion just gave zero sh*ts and did whatever it wanted?


The female mosquito sucks so hard.

(Center for Disease Control)

Well, the French propensity to drink and the Legion's outcast status both played roles. At that time, the wine that was part of a soldier's daily ration was increasing while most other militaries were cutting back. The reason being that France thought drinking that wine was a good way to cut down a troop's chances of contracting malaria.

Quinine was known to have anti-malarial effects as far back as the late 1600s when King Charles II was successfully treated with it. Slipping it into the wine of legionnaires and others operating in tropical heat (in places like Africa and Mexico) just made sense.

The artemisia genus of plants, of which wormwood is a member, is a traditional medicine in China for the treatment of parasites in general and malaria in particular, among other ailments. Legion use started with infusing wormwood into wine, and legionnaires who developed a taste for it found they could get a similar fix back in Paris with a new drink known as 'absinthe.'

Absinthe looks pretty sweet, but stop burning off all your booze, man.

Absinthe is named for its iconic ingredient, wormwood, which has the Latin name, artemisia absinthium. The drink was invented in 1792 and mass production began in 1797.

Once absinthe became popular, it made as much sense to give that to the troops directly as it did to infuse issued wine with the herb, though the higher costs of absinthe likely limited how much troops got. An article in The Drinks Business gives a barracks rate of 5 centimes for the cheapest wine, 15 centimes for a more popular one, and a stunning 40 centimes for true absinthe.

"The Green Muse" was the lady who visited you and gave you all your good ideas when you were all messed up on absinthe. She's also known as the "Green Fairy," but prefers Samantha, if anyone would ever bother to ask.

(Albert Maignan)

Ballers on a budget were only sucking down absinthe when they received it in their ration — that is, if they didn't sell it instead.

Still, it must've made the quartermaster pretty popular. Any medics in charge of giving out anti-malarial pills should feel free to take on a new nickname: The "Green Fairy" of absinthe lore.

No takers? Weird.