I have a new theory about what plant has the High John the Conqueror Root as its root. I think i. jalapa is wrong, though even cat yronwode says it is and she knows her shit. But in this case, I just don’t think she’s right. I. jalapa works because it sure looks like a High John the Conqueror Root and i. jalapa has magical and medicinal properties and has spread all over the world for those properties.
But when we’re talking hoodoo and rootwork, we’re talking a magic practiced for most of its history by rural enslaved Black southerners. Yes, there were extensive trading networks going on under the noses of the whites in the area. But at some point we have to wield Occam’s razor and assume that the likely truth is that they High John wasn’t imported from Mexico but was a plant already here and possibly already in use by the people already here.
We know High John is used extensively in men’s magic and is said to resemble a man’s testicle. It has to be big enough to hold up under being “dressed” and rubbed and carried in a pocket. We know that there’s some ongoing confusion, even among knowledgeable hoodoo folks, about whether it’s i. jalapa. But the important component to trying to identify it is, I believe, that it has to be a plant that grows and is common in the South. If there’s such a strong belief that i. jalapa is the candidate, even though it doesn’t grow widely in the U.S. southeast, then I think we might safely infer that High John might be some other kind of Ipomoea.
Okay then, which?
And, fellow gardeners, I am about to present you with a time-suck so exquisite it will make the soil site from the other week look like child’s play. Are you ready?
I present you the USDA plant database!
And what ipomoea do we find throughout the southeast? Ipomoea pandurata, or manroot or man-of-the-earth. Used by locals already for magical and medicinal purposes by indiginous locals.
And hairy. Which tickles me to no end.
What do y’all think?