The Henna Plant

Botany

Henna plant

Click on the image above to view the "Morocco Gallery": a series of photographs showing the areas in North Africa where we have been buying our all-natural, high-quality henna powder from the same farmer since 1998.


Henna flower

Henna flower

The botanical name of the henna plant is Lawsonia inermis. A member of the Loosestrife family, henna originally comes from Egypt, a country that is still one of the main suppliers of the plant (along with India, Morocco, and the Sudan).

Appearance of Henna

Those who have already come into contact with powdered henna are familiar with its undeniably special smell, a powerful and heady combination of earth, clay, chalk, and damp green leaves. In contrast, fresh henna leaves have no odor whatsoever, even when crushed between the fingers.

The henna flower is delicate, petite, and four-petaled, with a profusion of slender and elongated antennas bursting from the center. The red, rose, and white variations of the blossom, which also blooms yellow, cream, and pink, emit a sweet and seductive scent reminiscent of jasmine, rose, and mignonette; hence the name Jamaica Mignonette, as henna is referred to in the West Indies.

Although the plant's primary uses lie elsewhere, the flower's oil has been used as a perfume for many centuries (although its fragrant secret has yet to be popularized in the West).

Properties of Henna

In addition to its cooling properties (mentioned on the History page), several other medicinal properties are attributed to henna. It is used as a coagulant for open wounds; and a poultice made with henna leaves works to soothe burns and certain types of eczema.

Its inherent soothing qualities are also part of the reason why mehndi is traditionally performed on the palms of the hands. Since the palm contains numerous nerve endings, when henna is applied to the area it helps to relax the system.

Finally, henna mixed with vinegar and applied to the head is reputed to heal headaches. Aspirin, move over!

If there are fifty different ways of baking a cake, there are as many ways of preparing a proper henna mixture for mehndi purposes. Every Indian or Moroccan family has a time-honored recipe, using ingredients that they are often loath to share.


Text for this page adapted from Mehndi: The Art of Henna Body Painting by Carine Fabius.

 

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