America’s first licensed pharmacy doubled as a secret voodoo potion exchange

Catholics could come to the pharmacy to purchase voodoo potions in secret without visiting the voodoo priestess.

Haunting stories of bloodletting, surgical instruments and questionable medical practices during the 19th century bubble from the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Museum curators also reveal that many Catholics during this time used America’s first licensed pharmacy as a secret exchange to purchase voodoo potions.

Curator and docent Owen Ever said Catholics could come to the pharmacy to purchase voodoo potions in secret without visiting the voodoo priestess.

“If someone wanted access to voodoo but did not want to go to Congo Square, the pharmacy was sort of a safe and dignified place for them to go,” Ever said.

Ever said many patrons looking for extra help from Louisiana voodoo seemed to yearn for a successful love life. Potions could be ordered by number to avoid embarrassment in front of other pharmacy customers.

“We have many different love potions; we assume love potion number nine was sold here,” Ever said.

During the 19th century, the practice of cultural exchange was common in an eclectic and diverse city like New Orleans. Pharmacists could get advice from other practitioners — including voodoo priestesses and indigenous healers who sold goods and treated people in markets around the city.

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“Now, we don’t know, in this particular pharmacy, if the pharmacist was working directly with the priestess, buying or selling from the priestess or making voodoo potions on their own,” Ever said.

One treatment that both practitioners of voodoo and practitioners of pharmacy found to be indispensable for them when dealing with malaria in New Orleans was quinine. Quinine was derived from the bark of a South American plant and made its way to New Orleans through trade routes.

“It’s a fever reducer, and it is still used today to mitigate the symptoms of malaria,” Ever said.

The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum opened in 1950 as a museum, but the historic building opened in 1823 as America’s first official licensed pharmacy. The pharmacy was owned and operated by┬áLouis J. Dufilho, Jr., America’s first licensed pharmacist.

For more information about the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, visit the website.