all natural body art
“What’s on your hands?”
“Is that a tattoo?”
And my personal favorite, “Are you okay?”
When I have henna decorated hands, I get these questions all day long. What is henna? It’s an ancient tradition of using ground up henna shrub leaves to make a paste that stains skin. Henna paste is typically made with lemon juice or another acidic liquid, ground up henna leaves, and essential oils. The stain can last anywhere from one to three weeks, and is reddish brown in color.
In various parts of the world, henna is used to celebrate marriage, death, birth, or as a rite of passage. These ceremonies have existed for thousands of years in India, the Middle East, and North Africa. Henna migrated to the United States as people brought these customs with them and we assimilated the art into modern culture.
One of the most commonly seen uses of henna is at weddings. “Night of the Henna” occurs up to 2 nights before the wedding as a ceremony of henna decoration and celebration. A bride and the women in her wedding party will get henna on their hands and/or feet. Some traditions hold that the bride does not have to do any housework in her new home until the henna has faded (1-3 weeks). It is also common to hide the groom’s name or initials in the intricate henna designs on the bride’s hands.
Henna is found at festivals and is favored by belly dancers, fire dancers, and other performance artists for temporary body decoration. Once the stain darkens, henna stains can make for fantastic performance make up. Many henna artists offer embellishments such as glitter, rhinestones, and body paint to accent the henna paste.
Henna is considered good luck, protection against evil, and blessings for fertility or good health. It can be used to dye hair, fabric, or other natural fibers such as animal skin drum heads. Mummies in Egypt have henna dyed hair as far back as 6,000 years ago.
I have been working with henna for a long time. I bought a henna kit when I was 14 and have been enchanted with it ever since. I played around with henna for years before taking it seriously in 2006. My first belly dance teacher noticed my henna and asked me to learn traditional patterns in order to decorate my fellow dancers. That was when I started truly studying the history, traditions, and science of henna. I can now explain to you which region a design is from, why henna is common to this place or that, how to craft safe and organic henna paste, and why henna doesn’t last long on some people. It is fantastic. I have the pleasure of sharing this art with our community at local events, and enjoy working with other artists and apprentices to expand our skills and knowledge. There is always more to learn and new designs to try!
Want to learn more about henna? Find us on FaceBook. I offer workshops on how to make your own henna and advanced techniques for applying henna. Emerald Caravan is a hub for henna artists locally and I can recommend someone who uses all-natural safe henna for your next party, performance, or baby shower. Humboldt Herbals in Eureka and Moonrise Herbs in Arcata have do-it-yourself henna kits available for sale, or you can contact me to purchase kits or a fresh, all-natural henna cone ready to use.
*Please never purchase chemical henna. Real, natural henna paste is perishable and is never sold off the shelf in a cone unless refrigerated. When buying a kit off the shelf, make sure the powder is natural and being mixed with lemon juice. Anything else contains chemicals that can cause serious allergic reactions.*
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