A hippo’s skull, starfish, and chameleons are easy enough to recognise, but other parts of animals and plants in heaps on the muthi market are much more cryptic. Johannesburg’s busy and vast muthi markets supplies its occupants with materials for a medicinal practice that is much older than the city. Muthi markets sell not only the plants and animals used in local traditional medicine but also diagnostic services as some of the vendors diagnose and treat their customers.
I was guided around the winding stalls of Faraday market by Ledile. Not only has she carried out research using DNA analysis to identify some of the plant materials on the market, she also speaks a couple of local languages. So I was very lucky to be able to chat with vendors as well as see what was being sold.
Most of the plant material is chopped and dried. Which makes is difficult to identify. I was told that one of the most popular botanical items was Leopard orchid (Ansellia Africana), which is used in love potions. Most vendors just sell medicinal plant and animal materials but do not prescribe them. However one vendor also worked as a witch doctor and his knowledge of plant collection as well as their uses was fascinating. He said he had even been asked to use his skills in the garden of one of Johannesburg’s wealthy residences – planting plants that would protect the household.