The green powder, commonly known as 'Henna' and used as a natural dye for hair derives from the leaves of a small tree or large bush that belongs to the Myrtle family. It is at home in the dry regions of northern Africa and India, where it is widely cultivated, mostly for cosmetic use. The red colour results by means of a fermentation process that is activated when the powdered leaves are mixed with water and left in a hot, moist environment. The different shades of colour are derived by admixture of other substances, such as tea or other dye plants. Natural Henna never dyes black. All black Henna products, as well as most commercially available Henna powders contain chemical additives to ensure an even pigmentation. In recent years Henna tattoos, a traditional body decoration usually applied ceremonially at major rites of passage, such as birth, marriage, circumcision and funerary rites, have become popular in the West. However, so called black Henna has been indicated to produce very intense allergic reactions that are due to the chemical additives mixed in to produce the artificial black dye. Red Henna, which has been traditionally used for this purpose does not result in allergic reactions, on the contrary it has some beneficial effects on the skin. In India, Pakistan and Northern Africa Henna is not only used cosmetically but also for medicinal purposes. The white flowers produce a delightful fragrance and have been distilled to produce an essential oil and flower water which are used in perfumery. It is often planted as a hedge plant since its spiny thorns deter animals and intruders. To dye hair red with natural Henna, mix the powder with hot water until it has the consistency of creamy spinach. Apply thoroughly to the hair, taking care not to rub it into the skin below the hairline, as it will dye the skin as well. Wear plastic gloves to protect your hands as well. Natural red Henna is beneficial for the hair, adding lustre and volume. The colour wears off over a period of time.
Henna has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, which have been used medicinally to treat athlete's foot and other skin diseases, boils, burns, bruises and inflammatory conditions of the skin as well as chickenpox, small pox and leprosy. The medicinal use of Henna is widespread in Ayurveda, Unani and traditional folk medicine of India, Pakistan and Northern Africa, where seeds and roots as well as the leaves are used internally for various conditions, from diarrhoea, to enlarged spleen or as a contraceptive.
The red dye of Henna traditionally represents the colour of life and is thus associated with all rites of passage: birth, circumcision, marriage and death. It is considered protective against evil influences, malevolent spirits and the evil eye. Henna has also traditionally been associated with love and sexuality, its fragrant flowers adding a seductive perfume to its protective shade.