HennaHenna'd hands

Last night I offered myself a calming, somewhat exotic, aromatic retreat. It was probably one of hundreds of times that I’ve indulged in henna to make mehendi — beautiful tattoos — or to dye my hair. Starting from the time when I was a teenager, henna has been a most pleasurable aspect of my health and beauty regimen.

I know you’ve heard of henna, but do you know it’s history, how it grows and from whence it came? I hope to provide some background on its long history as a medicinal herb for the mind, body and spirit.

A History of Henna

Henna is an herbaceous shrub called Lawsonia inermis in botanical Latin. It was named after the British explorer John Lawson in the early 1700s. The use of the herb for health and beauty is far older than the British discovery, dating back to 3,500 BC, and has had a presence in human civilization for 7,000 years.

HennaHenna powder

Henna is a Persian word for a plant with many names. In Arabic it is called Khanna. In India, henna is called by many names depending on the dialect: menhadi, mehendi, mehedi, mendi, hina. And in Sanskrit, it is mendika. Ancient hieroglyphs in tombs in the Valley of the Nile refers to it by the Egyptian name pouquer. Pouquer refers to dye created from the plant, used to color the fingernails of mummies. A lovely perfume created from henna plant is referred to as camphire, in the K'oran. Since the Hindus of India call it mehendi — a name synonymous with temporary henna tattoos — I will refer to henna alternately by this name when speaking of hair care.

In early India, henna was applied by dipping palms and soles into a thick paste of crushed fresh leaves, creating a solid red stain without a pattern. Middle Eastern henna was done by mixing dried powdered leaves into a paste and applying it with a stick. Henna is still in use in parts of Asia, especially India, the Middle East and the Continental African countries. It also is catching on in Australia, North American and Europe.

A Henna Timeline

Country/culture Period
Catal Huyuk 7,000 BC
Turkey 5,000 BC
Cycladic Islands 3,000 BC
Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon 2100 BC
Crete, Cypress, Greece, Libya, Nubia 1,700 BC
Iraq, Iran 1,300 BC
Tunisia, Kuwait, Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Sudan, Yemen 1,200 BC
Jewish culture 1,000 BC
Pakistan and India 400 BC
Muslim culture 550 BC
Christian (Coptic, Armenian> 1st Century AD
Asia (Sri Lanka, Turkistan, Uzbekistan, China, Tibet, Burma, Thailand) 700-800 AD
Ethiopia, Nigeria 800 AD
Indonesia 1200 AD
South Africa 1800 AD

Uses of Henna: Cool Medicine for Health and Beauty

Henna can be used to condition and color the hair. For curly tops, Henna's benefits include:

  • Amps up volume
  • Building body
  • Decreasing chemical and greasy build-ups
  • Emphasizing shine
  • Developing subtlety in hue and tone
  • Yielding creative colors (avoids “out of the box” tired-look)
  • Excellent conditioner for all hair types
  • Wound healer
  • Good for sensitive and irritated scalp
  • Reliable natural colorant for kinky, curly, wavy and thick hair which may be resistant to other types
  • Inexpensive
  • Widely available

Hair Products Containing Henna