Friday, April 20, 2007

Henna History from the vegan bunny hugger

Henna History from the vegan bunny hugger

So first off I met Khadija of Henna Sooq online at the Long Hair Community.

It was in this forum that I began seeing many mentions about henna. As a vegan, environmentalist and Buddhist I was attracted to the cultural, historical and medicinal aspects of henna.

Henna also known as (Lawsonia inermis, syn. L. alba) is a flowering plant, the sole species in the genus Lawsonia in the family Lythraceae.

Its uses have included being a dye for hair, skin and fingernails, a dye and preservative for leather and cloth, and medicinally as an anti-fungal.

The two most predominant uses of henna are skin and hair dye. Traditionally Henna is most commonly used to adorn the body with artistic designs for special events such as a wedding or other significant occasion. However with the popularization of “temporary tattoos, and body art” many people are beginning to utilize henna for adornment for any occasion.

Medicinally henna has a few more uses. The henna flowers can be crushed in oil for their scent; a combination of dark chocolate, roses and tobacco. This oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties similar to melaleuca (tea tree) oil. Further it was said that henna oil or powder and vinegar or other acidic liquid (lime or lemon juice) applied to the forehead was an effective headache reliever. Henna is also used as an ornamental shrub in North America and the United Kingdom.

Henna is cultivated in the tropical savannah and tropical arid zone from Africa to the western Pacific. Henna is indigenous to North Africa, Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and South.

Henna powders produced in temperatures between 35°C and 45°C have the highest dye content. Thus geographically speaking Rajathani and Jamila Henna are the two henna powders associated with the highest dye rate.

Henna does not thrive where minimum temperatures are below 11°C and temperatures below 5°C will kill the henna plant. So it is usually imported to places such as the UK or the North America or grown in greenhouses.

Henna is cultivated as a commercial crop in Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Morocco, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Niger, and Pakistan. Nigeria exports most of its henna to Algeria, and Yemen. India is the biggest producer of henna (Rajathani and Jamila).

India, Pakistan, the Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, Iran and the Sudan are the main growers and exporters of henna. Large quantities of henna are produced at home for the local market, and much smaller quantities sold on the international market.

Some unreputable companies, that are usually not mandated by the FDA sell things called “neutral and black henna” these are false powders that have no relation to henna at all. There are no such plants as black henna or neutral henna.

There are products sold as such may be indigo or cassia obovata which are used to produce a Blue/Black or Cassia Obovata can be used to condition the hair but will not color the hair and is not related to the henna plant.

Others may contain unlisted dyes and chemicals such as Para-phenylenediamine (PPD). PPD is a black dye which is illegal and can cause severe skin eruptions, lesions, and burns.

Henna is usually labeled by where it is grown. There are major types of henna such as Jamila, Yemeni, Moroccan and Rajasthani. Most popular for hair use seem to be Jamila, Yemeni, Morroccan and Rajathani. The difference according to Henna Sooq is Dye Release time and redness/brownish tint of stain. Jamila has a longer dye release (sometimes taking 8-10 hours to release) and shows a more brown stain. Where as Rajathani henna has a quicker dye release and produces more of a black cherry stain.

In tropical savannah and tropical arid zones where henna is grown , the henna plant flowers during August and September as the monsoons subside. The highest dye releases come from these summer crops. The high heat and sudden rainfall make for a very potent Henna dye.

Once dry Henna appears to have a short shelf life as do many dried herbs or spices. Henna powder becomes stale and loses dye content in about three months unless it is packaged in airtight packaging such as a foil/vacuum sealed wrapper. It is recommended that prepackaged henna be stored in an air tight foil container in the freezer.

When dried henna leaves are powdered, the dye potency decreases in contact with air or light. This is why henna bought in bulk that comes in clear jars (such as the health food stores) or Henna kept in loose, porous packaging for more than three months makes pale orange stains, sometimes little or no stain at all.

One can test henna for dye release by making a small batch and watching for red tinge to appear on the edge of the sample. Once henna has lost its potency it is not useless, it still has conditioning effects and can be used to strengthen and cause a slight straightening of hair shaft.

Henna can be used in conjunction with other herbs and plants to provide different “effects” to the hair.

Some additives include:

Chamomile: for golden highlights

Cassia Obovata: For Golden highlights and extra conditioning, also known as neutral henna)

Hibiscus Petals: To impart Red/Purple tones

Red Zinger Tea: To impart Red tones

Red Sandalwood: To promote red tones

Blueberry Tea/Juice: To promote Burgundy/Purple Tones

Blackberry Tea/Juice: Promote deep burgundy/red tones

Cranberry Tea/Juice: Promote Red/Burgundy Tones

Black Tea: To promote Brown tones

Coffee: To promote brown tones

Black Walnut: To Impart Brown tones

Powdered Cloves: To impart brown tones

Indigo Powder: To promote Dark Brown or Black Tones (Note: this is recommended as a separate process)

My personal favorite henna recipe is as follows and causes my henna to be bright red almost purple in direct light:
150 grams Henna (I prefer Rajasthani because of super quick dye release)
50 grams Powdered AMLA (Indian Gooseberry Fruit, Embelica Officinalis )
2 Tablespoon Coconut Milk
1.5 cups boiled water with 1/2 cup Hibiscus petals
2 tablespoons red sandalwood
Mix together and let sit in warm oven for 1 hour or until you see dye release.
Apply to towel dried hair and wrap in saran wrap. Cover it with a hat and sit for at least 2 hour.

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