As can be seen by the previous nodes, henna is a reddish brown dye (actually it can come in black aswell)...

However, what has not yet been mentioned is that there is an age old eastern and African tradition for henna to be used to decorate the hands and/or feet on celebratory occasions. Infact in many regions a bride isn't considered a proper bride until at least the palms of her hands are intricately decorated with fine designs. This is often done by a professional henna artist, and it can take ages, but it all depends on how fast the artist works and what the designs are.

Henna designs have traditionally fallen into four different styles:

  • The Middle Eastern style - mostly made up of floral patterns similar to the Arabic textiles, paintings and carvings and do not usually follow a distinctive pattern.
  • The North African style - generally follows the shape of the hands and feet using geometrical floral patterns.
  • The Indian and Pakistani style - encompass more than just the feet and hands and generally extend further up the appendages to give the illusion of gloves and stockings which are made up of lines, paisley patterns and teardrops.
  • The Indonesian and Southern Asian style - are a mix of Middle Eastern and Indian designs using blocks of colour on the very tips of their toes and fingers.

I was always under the impression that henna was historically used as body art originating from India, but it turns out that the ancient Egyptians used henna way back in the days of pharoahs.

Proof has been found that henna (mendhi) was used to stain the fingers and toes of Pharoahs prior to mummification over 5000 years ago when it was also used as a cosmetic and for it's healing power. The mummification process took 70 days and as the Egyptians were diligent in planning for their deaths and their rebirth in the afterlife, they became quite obsessed with the preservation process. The Egyptians believed that body art ensured their acceptance into the afterlife and therefore used tattooing and mendhi to please the gods and guarantee a pleasant trip.

Interesting Note - Islam also recommends the use of henna, since it is considered a sunnah, in other words many muslims use henna to dye their hair because it has been historically noted that Mohammed the prophet of Islam dyed his hair with henna.

Strangely enough "henna" (also pronounced hayna or heyna or haynit) is also a term used throughout the Northeastern Pennsylvania coal mining regions. The word itself is a request for affirmation, much like the use of Eh? in Canada or "isn't that so?" in normal states.

example of use:

That is some pretty good soup, henna?
It's pretty cold out tonight, heyna or no?

When used as a hair dye, henna is a natural way to colour your hair, with a range from black to red to brown. Henna works by coating the hair strands; the use of heat is essential in a henna treatment as it basically bakes the henna into your hair's pores. Thus, it is generally the case that those with fine hair will get less of an effect and will not last as long as those with coarse and/or curly hair. It's been said that henna cannot lighten your hair, but in my own personal experience, I'd have to disagree. I myself have curly hair, and as a child had this kind of neon strawberry shortcake red hair, which faded to auburn as I matured. In college, in a typical female fit of drastic hairstyle changes resulting from boy troubles, I hennaed my hair 'Natural Expressions' red (The boxed henna found in your typical Wild Oats in the states), which resulted in the most pleasant bright red you can imagine. It was significantly lighter than my natural auburn. I refined this over time by combining mahogony and red, a cool thing you can do with henna. The point here is not to just slap it on and hope for the best... as tedious as it is, do a swatch test before you layer your head in the stuff, just like the instructions say. Don't blow it off, do it, or roll the dice.

You can buy henna at just about any wholefoods store, or a LUSH shop. It tends to be cheaper than chemical dyes, and is much less stressing on the hair, to a point. If you have long hair, the buildup of henna will be significant over time, and depending on how drastic the color change you're producing, a bitch to stop using. Also, if you have curly hair, over time it can take quite a bit of the curl out... you may find this to be a good or bad thing, depending on how much curly hair angst you have... if any.

When preparing henna, be ready for a mess. No, really, it is a colossal mess. Natural henna has the consistency and appearance of horse shit - kinda brownish green with little sticks in it. It smells only marginally better. When you mix it, use a pyrex bowl and wooden spoon. Do not use any metal objects 'cause this will funktify your mix. You can add cinnamon to the mix, which is nice, and helps auburns and reds. The best thing to do is take your bowl into the tub, flip your head over, and proceed to squelch it through. Be sure to wipe any of the mix that glops off anywhere, 'cause this stuff stains.

Okay, so at this point you'll be looking like a mythical beast, I wouldn't suggest accepting any calls from beaus you're wishing to impress... Pile your hair up (if need be) and cover your head with a plastic bag... Now this is the fun part. You have to keep your head warm for between thirty minutes to an hour. You can use a hair dryer, heat lamp, some summer sun, or towels warmed in the dryer that you don't care about. Follow the directions, and check it as you go along by rinsing a strand and checking the color. Be sure to dry it as well, to make absolutely certain you're going in the right direction. If you're not happy, recover and shove it back with the rest of the bird's nest. Have paper towels handy for drips.

When you're happy with the colour, rinse out the henna. This will take forever, mind you. Take a brush with you into the shower that you don't care about to help get the little sticks out of it. When you're done, don't condition it or anything, 'cause your hair will be very very soft and naturally conditioned by the henna. Your hair will smell rather earthy if you didn't add cinnamon, but it won't smell bad.

Now.. for those of you that chose red... go out and enjoy all the rubber-necking lads who believe all those things they say about red heads.

All this said about henna, and not one word about how to make it and use it. First off, there are many things you should know about it, like first off, Do Not buy the "pre-made" henna mixes. Typically henna has a shelf life of about 4 days, and pre-made henna you find in the store has preservatives in it which are not good for your skin. Secondly the type of henna you buy is very important. The better the quality of henna, the better your art will come out.

What should one look for in a good henna? First off avoid anything called "black henna", every book I have ever read on henna and mehndi have always said this is bad stuff despite what the label might say. Black henna is full of harsh dyes that could do permanent damage to someone's skin, so be careful. Secondly, even though a henna claims to be the best make sure to look at it, is it a bright earthy green, and make sure to smell it, does it smell nice and fresh like a leaf you just picked? The fresher your henna is, the better and stronger the stain it leaves will be. Also be sure to avoid anything that is marked as a "hair color" product, since those typically contain additives that are bad for your skin.

Now that you have a good henna picked out and bought, what else will you need? You cannot just add water to it and go from there. The traditional recipe calls for:

later you will also need:

The lemon sugar mix should not be added to your henna, but will be used later.

To make henna you need to start it about 12 hours before you plan on using it, the longer it sits (to a certain point) the better it is. So, to start making it you need to take your tea bags, water, coffee, tamarind, and cloves, and stick it all in a saucepan and boil it. Once it reaches a boil, let it simmer for an hour, the longer it boils the stronger it will become. It should cook down some over the hour's time. After that hour is up, turn off the heat and let it cool down. Once the liquid is cool, take the henna and put it in a ceramic bowl, and add the eucalyptus oil, and slowly, teaspoon by teaspoon add the liquid to the powder till it's the consistency of toothpaste. Note, you may not use all the liquid you made. Once you have it the consistency you want it (think toothpaste) cover the bowl in plastic wrap and set it somewhere that will remain at room temperature and out of sunlight, let it sit over night or for at least 12 hours.

In the mean time, seize the moment to cleanse your skin, and free it from hair and oils. Washing it with a mild soap, and moisturizing it with an oil (olive will work), will help your henna stain last longer on your skin. Another important tip is that the warmer your body is, the darker your henna stain will be, so it is good to take a warm shower right before you apply your henna, and drinking peppermint tea is a traditional way of raising someone's body temperature.

What do you do with this stuff 12 hours later? Find a small pastry tube, or a puffy paint squeeze bottle and fill it with your henna, this will make it easier to apply. I would recommend figuring out what you want to draw on yourself before you start. You might also want to practice tracing your pattern with your empty instrument. Remember to work from the center out, and from the wrist to the fingertips (or ankle to toes, whichever) since it makes it easier to hide mistakes. Also keep in mind that if you are having someone else do your hands (both at the same time) you will not be able to do even the most simple task for at least two hours. And when picking out patterns, remember that traditionally the feet have the same pattern while the hands (which are not usually seen together like feet are) can be contrasts without drawing too much attention.

Now that it is on, how do I care for my henna? The first step would be to let it dry, you might want to help it by sitting in the sun, or by using a hair dryer. After your henna is dry, use the mixture of lemon juice and sugar (applying it with a cotton ball) dab the mixture onto the plant bits that are stuck to your skin. The lemon juice sugar mix helps the plant mix to stick to your skin, and also helps your skin to react to the henna. How long should you leave the henna stuck to your skin? The short answer is, "as long as you can stand it". Eventually it will stick on fairly tight (most of it) and be fairly hard to scrape off. But the longer the henna stays on, the darker it will be, leaving it on for two hours will leave a stain, but it will not be as dark as someone who leaves it on all day and all night. How do you sleep with it on? Since it's already dry, and hopefully it has a few applications of the lemon sugar mix, it should be fairly easy to keep from messing up. First wrap it in a paper towel, toilet paper, extra cloth, or something that won't move much while you sleep. Then go to bed. When you wake up it should be much like when you went to sleep. After a while the henna will start to fall off naturally, but you may wish to scrape it off. Also keep in mind that henna is rather funny, right after you scrape it off, your skin may only appear light orange, but a few hours later it may darken to a dark brown, rubbing oil into your stain (twice a day, no more) will help it's true color stand out. Also remember that henna is a different color on every person who wears it and where they where it. Henna can range from a light orange to a deep dark brown depending on your skin type and where you put it. Since the soles of your feet, and the palms of your hands are thicker skin, they hold the stain longer than your back and stomach will (and on some people your back and stomach may not even hold the color at all). Keep this in mind when choosing an area to work on.

How long will it last? The length of time your henna will last depends on your skin, and upon how well you take care of it. Chlorine is very, very bad for your henna stain, and will bleach it out rather quickly. Avoid all bleach products, also avoid anything that causes your skin to regenerate quickly, things like steam baths, or exfoliating, also choose an area to work on that will not be subjected to a lot of rubbing from your clothing.

If you take care of your henna designs they typically last one week to up to a month. In Indian cultures as long as the henna designs last on a newly wed bride, she doesn’t have to lift a finger to do anything around the house, but rather has a servant do it for her, even things like bathing. It's also said that the darker the henna stain is on a bride, the more her mother-in-law will favor her. This lends itself to belief in that for a henna stain to be dark a woman has to hold very still for the artist to put it on correctly, naturally lending the bride to having more patience than her less dark counterpart.

Ok ok ok, but why henna and where did it come from? Henna is an amazing plant that grows in the warm climates of the Middle East and South Asian areas. About 5000 years ago people discovered that if they ground and spread the paste over their skin it was much cooler (temperature wise) than if they left their skin alone. Also they figured out that even after the plant was removed from their skin, the stained area remained cooler than the rest of their skin. Also since henna reduces the amount a person sweats, it may have been used as an anti-perspirant. Henna also has a whole bunch of folklore around it including a cure for aching teeth, sore stomachs, colds, flus, as well as bringing good luck to the wearer.

Now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about henna, go and buy some and play around with it. You'll have fun I promise. For more information find a book in the library.

infromation from various Middle Eastern women, and from a mehndi book called "The art of Mehndi by Sumita Batra henna body painter to the stars"

Hen"na (?), n. [Ar. hinna alcanna (Lawsonia inermis or alba). Cf. Alcanna, Alkanet, Orchanet.]

1. Bot.

A thorny tree or shrub of the genus Lawsonia (L. alba). The fragrant white blossoms are used by the Buddhists in religious ceremonies. The powdered leaves furnish a red coloring matter used in the East to stain the hails and fingers, the manes of horses, etc.

2. Com.

The leaves of the henna plant, or a preparation or dyestuff made from them.


© Webster 1913.

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