The Henna Paste
The Henna Plant
Henna, the Persian name for Lawsonia inermis, is a flowering desert shrub native to Asia and the Mediterranean coast of Africa. Twice a year the henna leaves are harvested, dried, and ground into a fine powder. For more than 9,000 years henna has been used to dye hair, leather and textiles red and for the art of mehndi.
Henna contains hennotannic acid, a dye that bonds with the collagen in skin cells and keratin of fingernails and hair, leaving behind a reddish-brown stain.
It is the oldest documented cosmetic and is soothing and cooling on the skin. It alleviates heat exhaustion and is even a natural sun block.
Making a great staining henna paste takes a lot of experimentation and a good amount of knowledge. The basic recipe I use remains the same; dried henna leaf powder, lemon juice, sugar, and a few drops of essential oil like Cajeput or Lavender. The lemon juice changes the pH level and breaks down the cell walls of the henna, the sugar gives a stringy sticky texture, and the essential oil gives a lovely smell as well as darkening the staining potential. The paste must be left to 'dye release' for a number of days before using. The length of time will vary by plant, mixture, and climate, but once its 'cooked' you can use it to stain your hands, feet, hair, nails, leather, textiles, wood....
Once your Henna has been lovingly applied it becomes Mehndi (a Hindi word for painting art on the body). depending on the room temperature your Mehndi will take between 20 minutes and 1 hour to dry, don't smudge it! The henna paste will dry and crack like mud and start to fall off on it's own. Its better not to pick because the longer you keep the paste on the skin the better the result. You can add a mixture of lemon and sugar, hairspray or wrap it in cling-film to try and hold the henna on for longer, but as long as it is thoroughly dry you should still get a good stain.
Never wash henna off! This will stop the staining process in its tracks, if its really stuck try a little lemon juice. Try and wait for at least 12 hours before washing the area with water, and keep it warm. Over the next 48 hours the stain will change from a bright pumpkin orange to a deep conker brown (see the image to the left), all skin is different though so you will have to wait and see how yours turns out! Your Mehndi will last 1-4 weeks depending on the area applied and how much wear and tear it gets.
By the way, when you have Mehndi on your hands you are excused from all washing-up duties!
There's no rules to henna application, but I tend to use a cone, which looks like a small pastry bag, and then pipe it onto the skin. Before the days of acetate henna artists would of used twigs or fingers or they would even just dunk their hand straight into the mixture.
Getting Henna should be a relaxing experience, the cool paste when applied to the skin has a calming influence, and the aromatherapy oils will soothe your soul. Some say that Henna also has healing properties and I can quite believe it!
Applying henna is not a quick process, be prepared to sit still for a quite a few hours if your getting bridal Mehndi done. I would recommend taking a shower before hand, but no moisturiser and putting on your pyjamas because it will be a long evening!
If your at a Mehndi party or getting henna done at a festival a small design may take 10 mins, or a whole hand can take 45 mins to an hour depending on the intricacy.
How to apply it
How to care for it
I love henna and real henna loves you too...