Heavily scented evergreen shrub or tree growing to 20 ft (6 m). Has narrow pointed leaves, clusters of small white or pink flowers, and blue-black berries.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to the Middle East, North Africa, and the Indian subcontinent, henna grows in sunny areas and is widely cultivated for use as a hair restorative and dye. The leaves are picked during the growing season.
Henna contains coumarins, naphthaquinones (including lawsone), flavonoids, sterols, and tannins.
History & Folklore
Henna has been used for thousands of years in North Africa and Asia as a red dye and as a scent. Mummies were wrapped in henna-dyed cloth in ancient Egypt. In the Middle East and India, the leaves have traditionally been used to make a pigment for dyeing intricate linear patterns on the fingers, palms, and feet. The leaves have also been used to dye not only human hair but the manes and tails of horses. Before meeting Antony, Cleopatra reputedly soaked the sails of her barge in heady henna flower oil.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Used mainly within Ayurvedic and Unani medicine, henna leaves are commonly taken as a gargle for sore throats, and as an infusion or decoction for diarrhea and dysentery. The leaves are astringent, prevent hemorrhaging, and strongly promote menstrual flow. A decoction of the bark is used to treat liver problems. Applied in the form of a plaster, henna treats fungal infections, acne, and boils.