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High John the Conqueror Root

While visiting New Orleans a few weeks ago, I finally stopped into the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. I’ll be writing more blogs about the museum in general and the special collections specifically in the coming weeks. However, one of the collections includes voodoo medicine. One display included High John the Conqueror Root, and I wanted to know more!

Display at the museum

High John is a folk term for root medicine associated with conjuring powers. It goes by several names including: High John, High John de Conker, John the Conqueror Root, and Jalap Root. Usage is complicated. Depending on the practitioner, the root may be carried for luck, financial gain, protection, and depression. It is related to and resembles morning glories and sweet potato vine. It is poisonous. Do not consume!

Ipomoea purga or I. jalapa

Many believe it is the most powerful of the gris gris ingredients. A gris gris (pronounced gri gri) is a voodoo amulet or talisman that is carried. It is usually worn around the neck.

High John has been popularized in pop culture. Muddy Waters (1913-1983) sang about it in two songs: “Mannish Boy” and “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) wrote about a mythical African-America trickster in “High John de Conquer.” High John has been personified and used in religious practices across the world.

To learn more about voodoo in New Orleans, join me on April 27 for a Facebook Live session through Ghost Education 101.