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Poisons of French Liquers

Poisons of French Liquers

Public Opinion







JULY, 1902—DECEMBER, 1902


Thursday, 16 October, 1902  

Page 499

Poisons of French Liqueurs

Results Of An Investigation Undertaken
By The Alcohol Commission Of Paris In
The Interest Of Public Health

The alcohol commission of Paris recently made an important report to the academy of medicine of the same city with reference to spirituous liquors, the report having been prepared by Professor J. V. Laborde. The academy of medicine has not as yet voted on the conclusions of the commission, and in the end parliament will have to decide, but the conclusion arrived at seem to necessitate the suppression of all liqueurs and aperitifs.

The liqueur called absinthe is clearly at the head of the dangerous drinks, and in the world of medicine it is called “the queen of poisons of this sort.”  M. Girard states that absinthe is prepared by distillation of wormwood, green anise, and fennel, the distillation, which only includes the essences of these plants, being colored by means of a tincture composed of wormwood, hyssop, balm-mint, and lemon. These introduce into the liqueur a new quantity of extracts and of fixed principles of these plants, the resins, coloring matters, alkaloids, etc. Thus the liqueur is poisoned first by its extracts and then by its alkaloids without counting the alcohol.

These different extracts have disastrous effects on the consumer, the essence of wormwood producing a well characterized epileptic syndrome, the other extracts being stupefactives. This last group, although they are less harmful, make their additional contribution to the danger of poisoning, but the principal evil is the wormwood. One should not believe, however, that the other aperitifs are not poisonous, as for examples, vermouth and bitters, the composition of bitters being of extraordinary complexity. The vegetables employed are wormwood, gentian, galonga, iris, angelica, calamus, sandalwood, orange, quinine, cardamom, the number of extracts being at least twelve, and that of the alkaloids and the glucosides at least thirteen. In this mixture the wormwood, the aldehydes, the alkaloids, and the vegetable glucosides are chiefly to be feared, as all of them are more or less actively poisonous. The same conditions are present in the case of vermouth with the additional danger that the latter contains a very dangerous extract, the extract of meadow-wort or aldehyde salicylic, and the prussic acid which always accompanies this chemical. Everybody knows that a few drops of prussic acid produce instant death, and the extract of meadow-wort, which was formerly distilled from the plant itself, is today manufactured by chemistry under the name of aldehyde salicylic.

Observations made on drinkers of bitters and vermouth have confirmed in every way the experiments made on animals by MM. Magan and Laborde, the patients being afflicted with vertigo, trembling, epileptic crises, and alcoholic dyspepsia. It follows that the drinking of vermouth and bitters for the purpose of avoiding the dangers of absinthe is useless, the same dangers being encountered for the very reason that one believes that he may drink with perfect safety a greater quantity of these aperitifs. To hasten intoxication certain distillers add to the mixture the essence of wintergreen or methyl salicylate, a “tetanisant,” and thus one absorbs a mixture which only requires a little arsenic to make the poison complete.

The famous Chartreuse liqueur in no way escapes from the general rule, being formed of genipi, balm- mint, hyssop, mint, angelica, arnica, cinnamon, mace, coriander, aloes, clove, not less than thirteen vegetable products among which we find the habitual procession of extracts, alkaloids, and glucosides and the absinthol and the absinthine furnished by the genipi, a group which constitutes from the physiologic and poisonous standpoint stupefactive vegetable agents of the first class. One should add to this liqueur, which is the oldest and the most famous all those which come from the same products, Benedictine, Trappistine, false Chartreuse, etc..

Another liqueur, vulneraire, includes eighteen different products, wormwood, origan, rue, all of the products before mentioned, and sweet-basil, calamint, lavender, marjoram, melilot, and rosemary besides. We should also cite kummel, eau-de-vie de Dantzig, vespetre, raspail, and gingembre. There are two liqueurs, however, which have such a reputation for harmlessness and even a special reputation for assisting digestion that they deserve special notice. These are anisette and genievre. Anisette is composed of green anise, bitter almonds, tea, laurel, tolu-balsam, ambrette, nutmeg, fennel, illicium anisatum, and coriander. Thus we find in anisette prussic acid and benzoic aldehyde without counting the other poisonous elements, the harmlessness being altogether a deceptive one.

The genievre is formed of juniper berries and of hops, and while this does not appear very dangerous the extract of juniper berries exercises a predominant influence on the functional sphere of the brain and slowly poisons the drinker.