The big fat Indian wedding cannot ignore its favourite guest - henna, or “mehndi” as called in Hindi. The beautiful combination of designs ranging from fine lines for lacy to floral and paisley patterns cover the hands, forearms, feet and shins. The body adornment practice enjoys such an immense importance in weddings that it enjoys a pre-marriage ceremony for itself.
Henna is originally a dye prepared from the plant Lawsonia inermis, which is a tropical shrub that grows mostly in dry areas like northern Africa, Asia and Australia. Commonly sold in powdered form in most of the countries, henna is used to achieve a particular reddish-orangish-brownish colour. Henna is mostly used in in the Arabian countries, in the Indian subcontinent and North Africa to dye skin, hair and fingernails, apart from colouring fabrics.
The henna plant in its original form does not leave any stain. Thus, they have to be first dried, milled and sifted before selling them in powdered form. This ground henna powder contains natural dying properties called tannins which is then mixed with hot water to make a paste out of it. The release of lawsone molecules found in the leaves helps in the particular henna colour.
While the paste itself gives a good reddish colour when applied on an outer surface, there are other natural ingredients that can be added to the paste to enhance the effect. For example, henna powder mixed with indigo, tea, coffee, cloves or lemon results in different shades of the reddish-brownish colour. One can also add sugar an oil to ensure the strength of the colour and the longevity of the design.
After application of the surface, there are a few tips that one can follow for better colour:
- Leave the paste in contact with the skin for at least 48 hours.
- Do not wash the dried paste with water or soap.
- Remove the residues of dried paste with lemon juice, or olive or corn oil.
- Avoid soap or excessive use of petroleum products over the decorated area.
Apart from being a mere paint for body art, the plant in its original form is also a laden with medicinal properties:
- The paste keeps the applied surface cool against the summer heat, while also beautifying the surface.
- Its antibacterial and antifungal properties can be used for healing purposes.
- Its oil extracted from the flower can be used for treating muscle pain.
- The seeds can help regulate women’s menstrual cycle.
- The bark is used to treat jaundice and other liver conditions.
Henna is mostly available in powdered form in packets and sachets. Henna is sometimes also sold as a paste but in a conical-shaped container made out of paper that can be squeezed slowly to obtain the desired level of thickness and intricacy of the design.
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