One of the Middle East’s magic unguents, this. See, it’s not just used to draw pretty patterns on hands. Or to help you reinvent yourself as a redhead (er, not looking at anyone in particular here…).
Henna has been used for thousands of years to help protect the skin against the heat of the desert, and to ease burns and insect bites: a compound in the plant (Lawsonia inermis) reacts with the skin to soothe the nerves of the hands and the feet and convince the body that it is cool. For this reason it is applied to the extremities of the body. Over time women realized that rather than just dunking their hands in orange goo, they could make pretty patterns, and thus tattooing was invented.
It is used as a dye as well of course: it is as safe and natural as it gets, and so is especially popular for hair. Although it is disconcertingly green in its natural state, it colours in a spectrum ranging from orange to chestnut brown. Please note: there is no such thing as black henna – anything sold as such will be chock full of chemicals – so if you want dark hair, it is best to buy natural indigo. And if you are buying pre-mixed henna for bindi, be warned – some of them are full of rubbish.
Whether you are applying it to your skin or to your hair, you need to mix it with a little lemon juice, sugar and warm water and then leave it to rest for an hour or so. Some people mix coffee grounds, tea leaves or red wine into the mix to get a richer colour. For hair, you should then rub it in right through to the ends, and cover your it with a plastic bag. May as well get a good DVD to watch, as you need to keep it on for at least two hours for it to work. For skin, a few drops of essential oil are usually added (lavender or geranium are a safe bet), and you will need to take a night off the washing up – the henna needs a good few hours to dry and work. And now you know as much as we know on the subject. Good luck. Oh – and do send us your before and after photos…