Henna (Lawsonia inermis, also known as hina, the henna tree, the mignonette tree, and the Egyptian privet) is a flowering plant and the sole species of the Lawsonia genus.
The English name “henna” comes from the Arabic loosely pronounced as ħinna.
The name henna also refers to the dye prepared from the plant and the art of temporary tattooing based on those dyes. Henna has been used since antiquity to dye skin, hair, and fingernails, as well as fabrics including silk,wool, and leather.
Historically, henna was used for cosmetic purposes in Ancient Egypt, as well as other parts of North Africa, West Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Near East and South Asia. It was also popular among women in Iberia and 19th-century Europe. Today, bridal henna nights remain an important tradition in many countries.
The Earliest written evidence of the use of henna is from the early bronze age.
The goddess Anath protected the fertility of the earth and the harvest. In the myth cycle of Baal and Anath ( early bronze age 3300 -2100 BC ), Anath adorned herself with henna.
- There are many variations of the myth which have been interpreted to be a metaphor for the annual weather and agricultural cycle of the Eastern Mediterranean. The henna plant was indigenous to the area.
- The plant was used twice for adornment within the myth, once in connection with a spring festival and once in connection with a harvest festival. This coincides with the times that the henna plant produced new growth. It is likely that the growth patterns of the henna plant were indicators for the planting and harvesting of grain.
- There is strong evidence that neolithic peoples of Catal Huyuk in 7000BC used Henna to decorate their hands in connection with their fertlity goddess.
- Neolithic women used jawbone to harvest grain. The work was tough on the hand
- Henna strengthened the skin, and this may be the origin of henna on the hands and feet
- The Egyptians used henna to dye their fingernails a reddish hue. It was considered impolite not to do so.
- Traces of henna have been found on the hands of Egyptian mummies.
- Studies of the hair of Egyptian mummies also shows the frequent use of henna.
- An Egyptian pharmacopoeia written in 1500 BC lists seven types of henna and their medicinal properties.
- Ancient and traditional henna has been used for centuries to adorn the body.
- People all over the world continue to use henna for decorative purposes.
- However, in countries where henna is rooted in historical traditions, members of the working class use henna to heal and strengthen the skin of the hands and to make a connection to spirits.