Henna has been practiced for thousands of years throughout Indian, African and Arabic countries. A paste made of the crushed leaves of the Henna plant is used to decorate the body in beautifully intricate designs.
Designs vary from country to country, and culture to culture. Indian designs consist of fine line patterns of paisley, floral and animals that usually cover the entire surface of the hands and feet. In contrast, Arabic designs tend to be bolder with more negative space. Henna designs from African countries of Sudan, Egypt and Morocco tend to be more geometric as well as fine lined.
Wherever Henna is done it is always done with the intent that it would bring good fortune, good feeling, apply beginnings and happy endings. Henna is used to bring about spiritual and material wealth, luck and protection. Henna is essential to these countries rites of passage, religious fasting, weddings, graduations and circumcisions. It is innate to their daily life.
Henna, also known as Mehndi, has many other uses. In the hair it is a permanent dye as well as conditioner. It is said to kill lice and prevent hair loss. Henna is a natural sun block and has cooling qualities. Because of these qualities it has been used as a deodorant. It reduces fevers and has general antiseptic and astringent properties. It is helpful in treating bruises, sprains, boils, burns, headaches and athletes foot. As a tonic it helps with sore throats and stomach pains. It has even been said to treat more serious ailments, i.e. cancer, jaundice, various skin diseases as well as reducing labor pains.
The origin of Henna is rather mysterious, having been used for many thousands of years. The Henna plant is thought to be a gift to India from Egypt where they painted their fingernails with it. Though there is evidence it was there centuries before, some say it came to India through Iranian lands. However it came, it is ancient and steeped in tradition.
Mehndi is a gift that continues to give for it has been passed on to us from its rich and varied cultures. It is now time to enrich our own culture with the magic and beauty of Henna.