Wormwood and its cultivation

In the beginning, distilleries only produced small quantities of absinthe as a shortage of the right herbs was one of their biggest obstacles,with only a handful of gardens supplying their stills.

 


However, the cultivation of herbs gradually developed throughout the valley and more particularly in Boveresse where 30 hectares made it the world capital of wormwood cultivation. Farmers turned their land over to the production of the plants most sought-after by the distillery companies and made significant incomes from their cultivation. Wormwood was demanding, however, and required lots of care, the most thankless task being continual weeding. Kneeling on sacks to protect their knees, women and families tirelessly weeded the plants by hand day after day as only a completely weed-free harvest was accepted by the distillers

After the harvest the plants were dried in the shade for five to six weeks. As room ran out to dry herbs in the attics of residential houses, one of the largest producers in Boveresse, Auguste Barrelet, built an imposing wooden drying shed in 1893 with his brothers Henri and Alexis known as Le grand séchoir des Cises. During this period, absinthe production reached its peak and the Barrelet brothers became the largest wholesalers of aromatic plants and the main suppliers of the distilleries in the Val-de-Travers and Pontarlier.

With 300,000 m2 of land under cultivation, Boveresse was famous for the quality of its wormwood, lemon balm, peppermint and hyssop plants which were all essential ingredients in the production of the green alcoholic drink, hence the popular name of Boveresse tea to describe the Fairy brew.

The time when these magical herbs were grown, dried and packaged is long gone and the fields where aromatic plants were once cultivated have been returned to mundane grazing land. Only one venerable drying shed, listed as a historic monument, remains as a testament to that legendary era. Boveresse is no longer absinthe heaven and a place for herbal remedy.

And yet, all hope is not lost… since June 2002, the Artemisia plant has once again been blooming in the Val-de-Travers. With the blessing of the authorities 25,000 wormwood plants, 1000 hyssop and 1000 lemon balm specimens were planted in four fields, two of which are in Boveresse. These 3000 m2 cannot of course be compared to the 300,000 m2 of 1908, but who knows…will Boveresse once again become the capital of absinthe? We can always dream…

 

Fleurier, 1/03/2005 / NG