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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

HENNA ( LAWSONIA INERMIS): INFORMATION, USES AND BENEFITS OF HENNA


HENNA, LAWSONIA INERMIS
Henna is a shrub or small tree that is widely cultivated for its medicinal purposes as well as its decorative ones. It is the dried powdered leaves that produce henna hair dye, and the dye from this shrub is also used for leather and textiles. Unlike annatto it is not added to food. The substance that makes the red colour is Lawsone.
  The European Commission have been slow to approve the use of henna for any other purpose than hair dye because it is sometimes adulterated and when used on the skin has exacerbated already existing allergies. However it has been used on the skin at least since the Bronze Age in countries which include Greece (some figures on wall paintings show women decorated with henna). It is mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus which is a medical text from ancient Egypt dating back to the 16th century BC. The prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and his household used it and it figures in the “Prophetic Medicine” book which lists medicinal plants and natural substances that the prophet used.
  Henna has been used by followers of most of the world’s religions including Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Zoroastrians among others. It grows from North Africa through to Indonesia, and was imported to Spain by the Arabs in the 12th century. The Night of Mehndi (henna) is still celebrated in Pakistan and other countries on the night before a marriage, with the bride and her female friends decorating each other’s feet and hands with intricate henna designs. The traditional designs have become more intricate as the mehndi can be bought in easy applicators, and glitter and other colours are now also used to enhance the effects of this traditional body art. Henna has been used in this way in celebrations for millennia, and the Romans also used it for hair dye.
  In Pakistan villagers still follow the ancient traditions and decorate their horses, donkeys and mules with henna to protect them from evil and presumably accidents while traveling on the increasingly busier roads.
  To use it as hair dye you use 100 grams of powder to 300 mls of boiling water and mix this to a paste. Let this cool then apply the pulpy mixture to your hair and leave it for 30 minutes up to 2 hours, depending on the intensity of colour you require. Be warned though, if you have grey or white hairs, they will turn vibrant orange. In Pakistan I have been stunned by elderly men with orange hair and beards, and elderly women with orange hair who have let the white grow back. The donkeys look pretty though.
  The flowers are usually white and have a fragrance which is used in perfumes, and they are also steeped in vinegar and then applied in a poultice to foreheads to relieve headaches.
  This site’s owner used to use henna on his feet to relieve the prickly, burning sensation he gets in winter on the soles of his feet, but as it stains his feet orange, he has now taken to using turnips or kaddo which he says are equally beneficial. Apparently this remedy is also used in the Philippines.
  The roots are used in traditional medicine to treat gonorrhea and to increase a woman’s fertility, while made into a decoction they are used as a diuretic and for bronchitis. A tisane of the leaves and flowers is used externally for skin problems, rheumatism and taken orally for tetanus, epilepsy and stomach problems. The leaves are also used to treat leprosy, jaundice and scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and a leaf decoction is used to regulate a women’s menstruation and to bring on a period. A decoction of the leaves is given to relieve abdominal pains after childbirth too. In some countries a tisane of the leaves is given to people who are obese to aid weight loss.
   I’ve just been informed that there is a traditional remedy for strong hair; you heat 250 grams coconut oil and add a handful of henna leaves and heat almost to boiling point. Then you leave to cool and store in an airtight container.
   The shrub (which can grow anywhere between 2 and 6 metres tall) is used as a live fence as some plants are spiny, and it can be helpful in preventing soil erosion. The wood can be made into small objects such as tent pegs, and is used as fuel for cooking. Animals forage for the leaves, so the plant is put to many uses. It is an ornamental shrub as you can see from the pictures.
Henna powder
  Modern medical research has been done on extracts from the plant and has found it to be antimicrobial and antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, antiparastic and antiseptic. It is thought that it could be employed for its natural antibiotic properties as some micro-organisms have become resistant to synthetic antibiotics. It also has possibilities for the textile industry as they search for anti-microbial fabrics.
  If you thought that henna was strictly for the hair, then this should make you rethink those ideas.
 

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