Botanical Name: Lawsonia Inermis
The Henna plant produces the renowned orange-red dye that has been used for centuries as hair colouring and body art and adornment.
The name ‘henna’ is used for both the plant and the dye that is produced from crushing the plants leaves. The plant is a tall shrub or small tree, with multiple branches, growing up to 6 meters in ideal conditions.
The green leaves are elliptical and approximately 5 cm long by 1.5cm wide. Henna flowers are delicate and petite with four petals and elongated stamens. Although usually white, they can be red, pink or a variety of other colours depending on the variety. They white, red and pink forms have a sweet, jasmine like fragrance. The fruits are small, brown capsules with 30-50 seeds per fruit.
Henna grows wild in regions experiencing cycles of drought and monsoon rains, specifically India, Egypt, Sudan and Morocco. Generally, the native habitat of henna is the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Southern Asia and Northern Australasia’s semi-arid regions.
Fresh henna leaves have no fragrance, even when crushed between fingers. However, henna, when properly prepared takes on its characteristic earthy, chalky and damp smell. Usually henna is prepared by crushing the leaves and mixing the henna powder with an acidic medium like lemon juice to release lawsone, the orange-red dye.