Henna (Lawsonia inermis)

Henna is a perennial shrub which can grow up to 10 feet high. A native to North Africa, henna grows best in a tropical dry climate, in well-drained soils. It is naturalized and widely cultivated in Egypt, India, Iran; tropical parts of America and along the African coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The plant can be started through seeds and cuttings.

Medicinally henna has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. The leaves have astringent properties and can be used to soothe fevers, headaches, stings, aching joints and skin irritations. Henna has significant activity against tuberculosis and reduces coughing. The rural folks in Africa used to take care of burns by application of paste that contained henna. Henna also has wide usage in Ayurvedic medicines (alternative medicine source widely practiced in India).

Henna oil or leaves are applied to hair as a conditioner and to prevent grayness. The dried leaves produce a strong red dye and have been used for over 5000 years in the East to color hair, skin and nails. This dye was originally used by the tribes living in the hot Indian desert to cool off their body. They used to stay cool by dipping their hands and feet in decoction of dried and ground henna leaves. More recently, there has been a usage of henna in hair dyes in Western Europe and North America. The henna body art referred to as “mehendi” in India, has cultural importance at Hindu weddings. Over time, the application of mehendi has evolved as a popular tattoo form of delicate lines and dots painted on the hands and feet. While Americans also use the Indian word mehendi to describe henna body art, each culture has its own term: hinna in Arabic and Egyptian privet in Egypt. Often times, the henna is mixed with other plants to provide a wider color range in the dye.

Leaves of henna are known to exhibit fungicidal properties. The flowers are used in perfume. Moroccans paint doors with henna to bring prosperity and chase away evil. In Africa and India, the foreheads of bulls, cows and horses are sometimes decorated with henna for protection from heat.

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