The Meaning of Henna

Updated on October 16, 2018
AHG maghribia profile image

After 3 years of living with Moroccan host families, I have fallen in love with henna tattoos.

What Is Henna?

Henna is an auburn colored dye made from the leaves of a specific tree. The tree has many names including, the henna tree and Egyptian privet. Popular in Northern Africa, Turkey, India and Southeast Asia, henna is used to dye hair, nails and skin. This unique body art varies from region to region and country to country.

Henna and flowers.
Henna and flowers.
A perfect display of henna.
A perfect display of henna.

Henna in Morocco

In Morocco, the ground dye from the henna tree is mixed with water. As the paste forms, some artists add tea to intensify the color. Others will add deelio, a strong smelling clear substance resembling nail polish remover. Henna is applied onto the skin through a large plastic syringe. This technique ensures clean lines and even distribution.

As the henna dries, it seeps into the skin, thus creating a naturally beautiful tattoo. Henna usually lasts for a week, but a few dabs of lemon juice on a finished design helps to ensure this. In terms of patterns, there are two distinct designs. Henna in the Marrakesh area uses more geometric shapes, but outside of Marrakesh, a floral pattern is commonly seen.

Henna in Moroccan Celebrations

Not only is it used on skin, but henna is also a popular dye for beards and hair. A traditional Moroccan wedding, naming ceremony or religious holiday all call for henna. For these events, a professional henna artist is often hired. In a wedding, the bride is usually covered in detailed henna on her feet and hands.

In Jaipur, India, I sit patiently as elaborate henna is drawn onto my arm.
In Jaipur, India, I sit patiently as elaborate henna is drawn onto my arm.
The final product.
The final product.

Henna in India

Many opt for designs with peacocks and flowers. These elements represent joy and happiness. Lotus flowers represent creativity and the awakening of one's soul. Creating the henna is simple. All you need to do is get the henna powder, add water, lemon juice, sugar and tea tree essential oils to a large boil. After you mix, the henna should have a paste-like consistency.

Henna in Indian Celebrations

Called henna or mehndi, the paste is crafted into complex patterns for festivals such as Teej and Eid. During Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, many women display stunning mehndi on their hands and feet. Henna is also popular at weddings. A henna bud design is often seen on pregnant mothers or newlywed brides.

Fun Facts About Henna

  • Henna can help cure fungal infections, scabies and eczema through topical treatment.
  • Henna has been used for over 5,000 years.
  • There is no such thing as black henna. That substance comes from a different plant.
  • In India, a common belief is the darker the henna on a bride; the more her mother-in-law will love her.
  • In Tunisia, the henna celebration is seven days. The bride has henna painted on her hands and feet on the third day. On the sixth day, the groom gets henna painted onto his pinky.
  • In Algeria, the bride's mother-in-law offers gifts and paints the henna onto the bride's hands.
  • Some modern henna designs have glitter added for the finishing touch.
  • Henna has natural cooling properties.
  • Ramses II used henna to dye his hair red.
  • In Yemen, henna is said to ward off evil spirits and demons.

Outside the Bourguiba Museum in Monastir, Tunisia, women offer henna to pedestrians.
Outside the Bourguiba Museum in Monastir, Tunisia, women offer henna to pedestrians.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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