Return to the High John the Conqueror Root–High John’s True Identity

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.

ippa_005_lhp (image taken from the USDA site linked above.)

What do y’all think?

17 thoughts on “Return to the High John the Conqueror Root–High John’s True Identity

  1. Although, I feel in all fairness to the other side of my argument, I should point out that these hairy things are the seeds. The root can grow to be enormous. So, maybe this is not it.

  2. Uhhh…if you want that, you can have all of mine. The shit takes over your backyard and I pull bags of it during the summertime. (Yes, it’s a protected species in the rest of New York. Just not in my back yard.) The testes-like seed are suggestive. However, the enormous long roots are skinny and easily snapped — not something that says massive potent hard-on juju to me.

  3. Oooo! Send me seeds!

    Yeah, I’m leaning towards High John just being some type of morning glory. I wonder if it would be unseemly to pull up mine and take a look at their “roots” when they finally get above ground.

  4. Rereading what you wrote and what I wrote, I’m just going to clarify. I think that the trading in the Gulf South would have brought jalapa to the area long before Africans were transported. (They would have found it here when they got here.) I’d also caution about projecting the present on the past. Just because it’s not common now, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t common between 16th –> 19th c. Broadleaf weed-killers have played hell with certain species, as have habitat and climate changes, so I’m not assuming that how it is now is how it was when rootwork was more common.

    However, I guess I am thinking that if it was uncommon, that might have made it relatively more powerful a mystical agent. Certainly it would have made it easier for a granny-lady to make it seem more otherworldly. I find it hard to believe that if it was just wild sweet potato that any man who had to chop a ton of it out of their master’s fields would have found it to be mysterious or efficacious.

  5. If you’re offering seeds I would love some! Please!
    Actually, in Cat Yronewode’s book, “Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic” Ipomoea pandurata is listed under High John the Conqueror root, along with Ipomoea purga, and Ipomoea jalapa

  6. Ooo. My copy of of yronewode’s book is still packed in a box in the garage, but I’m glad to hear she thinks that i. pandurata is a good candidate, along with i. purga.

  7. Does anyone know where to get a Ipomoea purga/jalapa plant or seeds? I have bought the roots from Cat and others but I am looking for an actual plant to try harvesting my own roots.

  8. Bridgett, I would love to have it! Can you buy seeds or something, I want to grow it, but don’t even know what to look for!

  9. These are wild sweet potato. The roots are edible. The root of high john is not. High john has a long skinny pink purple flower.

  10. High john is definitely ipomoea purga. Jalapa is the one that produces the somewhat bigger and usually sliced jalap root. They are similar in some ways but jalap is not nearly as powerful. I have it on good authority that the seed of purga does grow the proper root. A very knowledgable owner of a store I used to frequent actually grew her supply for her store in her back yard. I had some seed from her; unfortunately it is much harder to start than most morning glories. The small plants are very subject to damping off. I had the same problem with some other seeds that I ordered. If anyone can get more; let me know.

  11. I don’t know which is the correct plant. But I’ll just say that slavery was a global system–slaves in S.C. were sold to and from the eastern Caribbean. Slaves in Louisiana might have been sold to and from the Caribbean–or even Mexico. Urban root doctors could always meet up with free black sailors and trade with them in ports. So it’s not inconceivable to me that folks had access to the Mexican root.

  12. I’ve been thinking the same thing recently. Even with the slave trade, I just don’t see I. jalapa being common enough to win such a prominent place in the magical practices of the rural upper South, esp. after slavery ended. Also, Miss Cat’s book says the Iroquois talked about it (don’t have book in front of me so not sure about quote), and I’m not sure how far Iroquois peoples extended into the deeper South and Southeast. I known the local Iroquoian,tribes here in coastal NC were forced up north in the early 1700s.

  13. Hallo folks, i m not from The states, i m an italian guy Who loves voodoo and hoodoo s … You should read Harry m. Hyatt. In The first book, it s very clear that high j. Conqueror wasn t a specific root but a brand of root. And do not think at an low life root pusher at The street corner, there were hoodoo store, lots of it…

  14. LOVE this post! Ever since reading about HJTC root, I’ve been trying to figure out what PLANT it actually IS and all the information has seemed fairly cagey. I believe that you are CORRECT in your conclusion that this is, in fact, the plant! I’m pretty sure I already have this in my backyard along a part of the fence–I’ll have to wait until full spring/early summer to know for sure but it’s been there for years and considering that the roots can weigh up to 30 lbs… I can’t wait to find out!

  15. I am unaware of anyone in the US (other than a few academic researchers) having seeds of either Ipomoea jalapa or Ipomoea purga…apparently no vendor in the entire world has the right seeds as they Always turn out to be something else , usually Ipomoea muricata.

    I had a person doing a phd study on these contact me for seeds , and I didn’t have any , but she shared with me, that she thought the original HJTCR was likely an African species , used in Africa and the use of which carried over to the US from the African belief systems and the closest plant to what was used in Africa , was I.purga and I.jalapa…it is still a mystery which African species might have been used which would have similar structure to I.purga or I.jalapa , e.g., the secondary root ‘testicles’ ala the doctrine of signatures.

    The species like I.jalapa and I.purga produce a large main root and the ‘testicles’ are the much smaller secondary roots growing off of the main root.

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