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When voodoo and cocktails were the mainstays of New Orleans pharmacy

The museum treasure in the December 2019 issue of The Pharmaceutical JournalLydia Pinkham’s ‘vegetable compound’ — and The Scaffolds’ 1960s song ‘Lily the Pink’ reminds me of my visit to the excellent and interesting New Orleans Pharmacy Museum on the site of the original apothecary of the first licensed pharmacist in the United States, dated 1823.

The museum exhibits voodoo potions, which were sold by pharmacists in New Orleans in the 19th century. Under colonial rule, African people brought to Louisiana as slaves were required to be baptised as Catholic, and Louisiana voodoo is a blend of African beliefs and deities with Catholicism. Although the practice of voodoo was not acceptable in all social circles, believers and the curious from the upper classes could purchase voodoo potions at their pharmacy with relative anonymity.

Love and luck potions were sold ‘under the counter’ using a numbering system that inspired the hit song ‘Love Potion #9’, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and recorded by The Clovers in 1959 and again by The Searchers in 1964.

The museum also has a section on the history of cocktails, which Antoine Peychaud — a 19th century New Orleans pharmacist of Creole descent — claims to have invented. His mixture was served in an egg cup, known in French as a ‘coquetier’, hence the name ‘cocktail’.


Leslie Wertheimer, Cheadle

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20207528

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