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Some years ago while I was on holiday in Durban, I paid a visit to the Durban Muthi Market. This is Durban’s “witches’ market” and here you will see traditional medicine, or muthi, being made and prepared for sale.

Stalls are covered with organic ingredients that range from snake-skins to crocodile teeth and birds claws, plants as well as mysterious bright pink powders. To the thumping sound of bark and roots being pulverized in deep wooden dug-out containers, you can shop for car-Tyre sandals, decorated walking sticks, magical talismans and African incense (impepho or wild sage).

You can consult a sangoma who will take you aside and ‘throw the bones’ ‘ a collection of bones, shells and maybe even a domino or two that are scattered on a reed mat ‘ to commune with the ancestors and spirit guides. Based on the outcome, he/she will prescribe the relevant treatment, which can range from ablutions to ointments to oral medicine or protection rituals.

I came across a very large pile of Leopard Orchid (Ansellia africana) waiting to be pulverized and blended into muthi. I paid the herbalist R 20-00 for five bundles.


The Leopard Orchid is the largest of our epiphytic orchids and grows in spectacular clumps in trees in the subtropical areas of southern Africa.

Uses and cultural aspects
Traditional Ansellia africana is used as a love charm, as an antidote for bad dreams and at homesteads to ward off lightning. It is also much in demand as a specimen plant in gardens.