Absinthe, like champagne before it, has its very own creation myth with the character of Dr Pierre Ordinaire as central to the many tales concerning its birth. Dr Ordinaire was a French medical doctor who had fled from France during the French Revolution to settle in Couvet in Switzerland. Some of the tales suggest that he discovered Artemisia absinthium (otherwise known as grande wormwood, an important ingredient in the production of absinthe) while travelling in the Val-de-Travers region in which Couvet is situated. A Maison Pernod Fils catalogue of 1896 gives an account of Dr Ordinaire which clearly shows the mythical nature of much of the his story. He is described as “an eccentric of great height [who rode] through the Val de Travers on a small Corsican horse known as the Rocket. His unusual appearance did not fail to surprise the village populations; it gave rise to many jokes and persistent astonishment among the children.”
The medical uses of wormwood (and Artemisia absinthium or grande wormwood in particular) were well known at this point and had been used for a very long time as had its use in drinks making; there are even records of a drink labelled ‘Bon Extrait d’Absinthe’ as far back as 1769. So although it is improbable that Dr Ordinaire invented the drink absinthe or discovered the herb Artemisia absinthium it is more likely that he formulated the recipe for what eventually became the La Fée Verte that we recognise today. This is reportedly because Dr Ordinaire left his recipe two sisters named Henriod who in turn passed it on to a man named Major Henri Dubied who started up absinthe production with his son-in-law Henri-Louis Pernod. However some have claimed that the story is simply the work of a historian resident in the Doubs region who was looking to create a solid background for the region’s drinks business. While so many aspects of this story are cloudy at best its positive impact upon absinthe’s rise is certain. It has even been compared to the effect of the story of Dom Perignon on the rise of champagne; the positive association with a man of the church for one and man of medicine for the other.