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Uses For Henna
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Henna - Background & Uses

Henna, Latin name Lawsonia Inermis, is a variety of flowering shrub or small tree. It bears fragrant flowers and is native to tropical arid zones and tropical savannah in regions of northern Australasia, Africa, and Southern Asia. Henna is cultivated commercially in many parts of India, Africa and the Middle East.

Many people in the West think of henna merely as a hair dye and cosmetic ingredient, yet various parts of the plant have been used in herbal medicine over the centuries, for numerous conditions. Medicinally, the leaves, roots, flowers, bark and seeds of the plant are all used. [1] There is also an ancient traditional oriental form of temporary body art using the henna plant, known as Mehndi, often used in ceremonies and rituals. [2] The leaves of the henna plant are ground into a fine powder, then mixed to form a paste. This is applied to the skin in decorative patterns. Mehndi has seen an explosion in use in the West since the 1990's, both within a more traditional context of use for ceremonies such as weddings, and also in the form of "henna tattoos" in popular culture.

Henna is also used to dye leather, wool, and textiles. In Morocco, the people do elaborate henna designs on leather and stain the skins of frame drums and lamp shades.

Henna - History

No one knows for certain the origins of the use of henna since it appears to have been in use since prerecorded times. It appears that every country of use would like to claim the origin of its use: Some say it originated in India and was brought to the middle east. Some say Africa. What is known is that the use of henna has continued in an unbroken chain of use throughout history and into the present day. It is recorded in many of our earliest sources of medicine, art, literature and scriptures and is said to have been in use for at least 5,000 years. [3] Henna is included in many of the world's oldest and most influential herbals, such as those by Hippocrates, Pliny, Theophrastus and others. [4] It is also one of hundreds of herbs listed in the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian Medical document written in 1550 BCE, and here, used primarily for diseases of the skin. [5]

Dioscorides' famous herbal "De Materia Medica" (c.65 AD.), translated by John Goodyer in 1655, refers to henna as Kupros or Cyprus, having numerous benefits:

"Cyprus is a tree having leaves upon the spriggs thereof like the Olive, but broader and softer and greener, the flower thereof being white, mossie, and of a sweet smell, but ye seed black, like unto the fruit of Sambucus: the best grows in Ascalon and Canopus. The leaves have a binding power, werefore being chewed, they help the ulcers of the mouth, and being applied as a Cataplasme they cure all other hot inflammations, and Carbunckles. A decoction of them is a fomentation [to be used] by such as are burnt with fire. The leaves macerated in the juice of Struthium, and beaten small, and so anointed on, doth dye the hair yellow. The flower being beaten small with Vinegar and layd to the forehead, doth cause the pains of the head to cease. But the unguentum Cyprinum that is prepared of it, becomes heating and mollifying of the Sinewes, being of a sweet smell, that it takes unto hot medicines when mixed with them."

Henna leaves contain a substance known as 'Lawsone' (2-hydroxy-1,4-naphthoquinone), or hennotannic acid, which binds with protein and produces a dye that is reddish in color. [3] Until the introduction of synthetic hair dyes in the 1930's, the word 'henna' meant 'hair dye' to most women in Europe. European women developed a fascination with the exotic products of the East, including henna, at the beginning of 1900, when Europe's trade relations increased with Turkey. [6] But long before the women of Europe used it on their hair, there are records of the use of henna as a hair dye in many early cultures: In "Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries" by A. Lucas, "Elliot Smith describes the hair of the mummy of Henttawi (Eighteenth Dynasty) as being a brilliant reddish color, which he suggest had been done with henna." He also states, "an oldish woman of the Pan-grave period had long henna-stained nails." [7]

One of our earliest and most signifiant sources of henna in art is in the Ajanta Caves in India, which date from the 2nd century BCE. In many of the Buddhist religious paintings of the cave, the hands of Buddha are stained red with henna. The Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. [8]

Henna as Perfume and Incense

The perfume made from the flowers of the henna plant was considered one of the finest perfumes in the world, yet it seems to have been most popular in ancient times. However, on the internet there are some claims of a modern resurgence. In Pliny's, "Natural History," there are three references to the henna plant, referred to as 'Cyprus' and one of them refers to the flowers: "The odor exhaled by these blossoms induces sleep." [9] Perhaps the flowers produce a narcotic effect, which is also noted in a number of other aphrodisiacs: Henna flowers and their perfume are purported to be aphrodisiacal in nature and are associated with romance and love in many sources. In the Song of Songs 1:14, "My Beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyard of Ein-Gedi." In "The Dictionary of Plant Lore" by Donald Watts, "Henna flowers, with a scent something like that of roses, were sold in the streets of Cairo as bouquets, and in India, they are used as offerings in Buddhist temples." [10]

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One of the most important scents of ancient Egypt was called Kyphi. It was a blend of botanicals most certainly including henna, used as a sacred incense and perfume. [11] Gul Hinna Attar (Henna) figures into some of the romantic stories of a bygone era. Its patrons included great poets like the legendary Mirza Ghalib. When Ghalib met his beloved in the winter, he rubbed his hands and face with ittar hina.

Henna - Scientific Studies And Research:

Note - it is important to note that commercial henna preparations often contain other ingredients, some of which may be toxic. The medicinal qualities of henna described here deal with pure henna derived from the plant. See safety note at the end for more info.

In researching the medicinal properties of the henna plant, there are numerous medicinal claims, from the most ancient to modern. Pubmed lists 94 scientific studies of henna, some confirming its potential for use in modern medicine. Pharma Tutor states, "The various in-vitro and in-vivo studies of L. inermis reported the plant to have antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, antiviral, anticancer, antidiabetic, tuberculostatic, anti-inflammatory, sedative, antifertility and wound healing properties." [1]

Henna as Anti-Fungal: A 1989 study shows promising results on the bark extract of Lawsonia inermis against ringworm fungi. [12] Henna is reported to be efficacious against seborrheic dermatitis or fungal infections. [13]

Henna as Anti-Inflammatory and Fever Reducer: Extracts of henna, especially the butanol and chloroform fractions, which have been determined to be more potent than the crude extracts, exert dose-dependent anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic effects. [14]

Henna as Antibacterial: An Omani study provided evidence about the in vitro antibacterial activity of henna’s fresh and dry leaves and seeds against Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa – including against a wide spectrum of isolated bacterial strains – and Candida albicans. In this study, superior in vitro antimicrobial activity, especially against Shigella sonnei, was noted for henna dry leaves. [15] Furthermore, when a Yemeni study evaluated the extracts from twenty selected plants traditionally used in Yemen to manage infections, the ethyl acetate extract of henna stood out and was deemed as the most active against all bacteria utilized in the test systems. [16] Similarly, using disc diffusion method, Sudharameshwari and Radhika (2006) showed that henna is deleterious against Bacillus cereus, B. subtilis, and S. aureus (Gram-positive bacteria) and E. coli, Proteus vulgaris, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Gram-negative bacteria) and that the antimicrobial property of henna is promising. [17] A recent Algerian study likewise furnished data about the antifungal property of henna, possibly due to henna’s lawsone content (lawsone is the principal pigment of henna). The ethanol extract from the leaves of henna in this study was observed to produce the best yield (8.03%) and to have a negative effect against Fusarium oxysporum; lawsone on the other hand was shown to be effective against both Fusarium oxysporum and Aspergillus flavus. [18]

Henna as Wound Healing Agent: Nayak, Isitor, Davis, and Pillai (2007) had provided sufficient data about the benefits of henna as regards wound healing, specifically in terms of wound contraction, skin breaking strength, and hydroxyproline, an amino acid. In this study, different wound models were used to evaluate the wound healing effects of henna in rats, namely, excision, incision, and dead space wound models. The first model was for the topical application, while the other two were for the oral treatment. Findings from this study had revealed that the henna extract administration significantly increased the rate of wound contraction (p < 0.001), reduced the period of epithelialization (p < 0.001), increased the skin breaking strength (p < 0.001), increased the granulation tissue weight (p < 0.001), and improved the hydroxyproline content (p < 0.05) of the experimental rats treated. Furthermore, the henna extract treatment also resulted in a 71% reduction in the wound area of experimental rodents as compared with the 58% from the controls and provided better histological findings (i.e., increased well-organized bands of collagen, more fibroblasts, and few inflammatory cells) than those of controls. [19]

Henna as Cancer Preventative: Treatment with 80% ethanolic extract from the leaves of henna has been proven also to significantly increase the specific activities of glutathione S-transferase and DT-diaphorase and the activity levels of cellular antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione reductase, superoxide dismutase, and catalase at a dose of 200 and 400 mg/kg body weight. The increase on glutathione S-transferase and DT-diaphorase level was reported to be dose-dependent. [20]

Henna - Active Components

Henna comprises several active compounds, but the major ones include 2-hydroxynapthoquinone (lawsone), mannite, tannic acid, mucilage, and gallic acid. Of these components, 2-hydroxynapthoquinone (lawsone) is considered the most significant, constituting about 0.5–1.5% of henna. [21] In addition, phenolic glycosides; 1,2,4-trihydroxynaphthalene-1--β-d-glucopyranoside; 2,4,6-trihydroxyacetophenone-2--β-d-glucopyranoside; lalioside (2,3,4,6-tetrahydroxyacetophenone-2--β-d-glucopyranoside); lawsoniaside (1,2,4-trihydroxynaphthalene-1,4-di--β-d-glucopyranoside); and luteolin-7--β-d-glucopyranoside have been reported to occur also in henna. [22]

Henna safety:

(Note - this is not medical advice). There are a number studies listed on Pubmed of negative reactions to henna.

However, many of them are due to people adding other toxic ingredients to henna - an alarmingly widespread practice. Several commercially-available henna products were found to contain unsafe colorants, pesticides, harmful bacteria and even lead compounds which have made people seriously ill ar led to adverse skin reactions to the preparation. Rarely, someone has a natural allergic reaction to pure henna: One source claims that it is "99% probable" that adverse reactions to henna are caused by adulterants. [23]

Another example of a henna adulterant is ppd (Para-phenylenediamine) - a hair dye - in order to make "black henna" for temporary tattoos. Real henna is not black, but red-brown. It is possible to make henna go dark brown using "safe" darkeners such as either tea tree or heat - but henna will never leave black stains on skin. [24]

Thus it is important to be aware of the purity of sources. The consumer is cautioned to avoid any henna products which claim to be "fast acting" or only take a few minutes to work. Also, be aware of incomplete / improper labeling that does not list all ingredients. [23]

Other names for Henna, past or present:

Hebrew - Kopher, Copher, translated as 'camphire'
Latin - Lawsonia inermis
Arabic - Hinna, Hina
English - Egyptian Privet,
Greek - Cypros, Kapros

References / more:












[13] Kök A. N., Ertekin M. V., Ertekin V., &amp; Avci B. (2004). Henna (Lawsonia inermis Linn.) induced haemolytic anaemia in siblings. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 58(5): 530–532. Retrieved 27 March 2013 from

[14] Ali B. H., Bashir A. K., & Tanira M. O. (1995). Anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and analgesic effects of Lawsonia inermis L. (henna) in rats. Pharmacology, 51(6): 356–363. Retrieved 27 March 2013 from

[15] Habbal O. A., Al-Jabri A. A., El-Hag A. H., Al-Mahrooqi Z. H., & Al-Hashmi N. A. (2005). In-vitro antimicrobial activity of Lawsonia inermis Linn (henna). A pilot study on the Omani henna. Saudi Medical Journal, 26(1): 69–72. Retrieved 27 March 2013 from

[16] Ali N. A., Jülich W. D., Kusnick C., & Lindequist U. (2001). Screening of Yemeni medicinal plants for antibacterial and cytotoxic activities. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 74(2): 173–179. Retrieved 27 March 2013 from

[17] Sudharameshwari K. & Radhika J. (2006). Antibacterial screening of Aegle marmelos, Lawsonia inermis and Albizzia libbeck. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, 4(2): 199–204. Retrieved 27 March 2013 from

[18] Rahmoun N., Boucherit-Otmani Z., Boucherit K., Benabdallah M., & Choukchou-Braham N. (2013). Antifungal activity of the Algerian Lawsonia inermis (henna). Pharmaceutical Biology, 51(1): 131–135. doi: 10.3109/13880209.2012.715166. Retrieved 27 March 2013 from

[19] Nayak B. S., Isitor G., Davis E. M., & Pillai G. K. (2007).The evidence based wound healing activity of Lawsonia inermis Linn. Phytotherapy Research, 21(9): 827–831. Retrieved 27 March 2013 from

[20] Dasgupta T., Rao A. R., & Yadava P. K. (2003). Modulatory effect of henna leaf (Lawsonia inermis) on drug metabolising phase I and phase II enzymes, antioxidant enzymes, lipid peroxidation and chemically induced skin and forestomach papillomagenesis in mice. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 245(1–2): 11–22. Retrieved 27 March 2013 from

[21] Al-Rubiay K. K., Jaber N. N., Al-Mhaawe B. H., and Alrubaiy L. K. (2008). Antimicrobial efficacy of henna extracts. Oman Medical Journal, 23(4): 253–256. Retrieved 27 March 2013 from

[22] Hsouna A., Trigui M., Culioli G., Blache Y., & Jaoua S. (2011). Antioxidant constituents from Lawsonia inermis leaves: Isolation, structure elucidation and antioxidative capacity. Food Chemistry, 125 (1): 193–200. Retrieved 27 March 2013 from



Main article researched and created by Antoinette Marie Zagata. "Scientific Studies" report by Dan Ablir - 2013

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