Jalap, a pre-Hispanic herbal remedy still considered a useful laxative, is an ingredient in some over-the-counter products sold by herbalists in contemporary Mexico. The purgative crude drugs are prepared from the roots of several morning glories species which all have been identified as members of the Ipomoea genus (Convolvulaceae). Their incorporation as therapeutical agents into Europe is an outstanding example of the assimilation of botanical drugs from the Americas as substitutes for traditional Old World remedies. Phytochemical investigations on the resin glycosides, main constituents of these drugs, were initiated during the second half of the XIX century; however, the structures of their active ingredients had remained poorly known, and still are for some members of these purgative root species. Modern analytical techniques with higher resolution capabilities (HPLC) for the isolation of the active principles of these crude drugs used in conjunction with powerful spectroscopic methods (high field NMR) have facilitated the investigation of these relevant, to the herbal product market, convolvulaceous species during the last decade. The advantages and limitations of theses techniques will be discussed. This review will also describe the ethnobotanical information associated with the Mexican morning glory species and how the traditional usages of these plants have played an important role in the selection of these materials for chemical studies. Little is as yet known about either the mechanism of purge action caused by the resin glycosides or the ecological significance of these same compounds for the producing plants. Over the five centuries of Mexican herbal medicine, one hundred years of phytochemistry has only partially elucidated the active ingredients of the jalap roots but has exemplified how to further contemporary drug discoveries through the investigation of those plants traditionally held to be economically and medicinally important in developing countries.