The art of henna (called mehndi in Hindi & Urdu) has been practiced for over 5000 years in Pakistan, India, Africa and the Middle East. There is some documentation that it is over 9000 years old. Because henna has natural cooling properties, people of the desert, for centuries, have been using henna to cool down their bodies.
What is henna?
Henna is a flowering plant and the only species of the Lawsonia Inermis. It can grow up to 12 feet high. It is found in warm climates such as Egypt, Pakistan, India, Africa, Morocco, and Australia. It grows best at temperatures up to 120 degrees and has the richest color when grown at high temperatures. The henna plant contains lawsone which is a reddish-orange dye that binds to the keratin (a protein) in our skin and safely stains the skin. The stain can be from pale orange to nearly black depending on the quality of the henna and how well a person’s skin takes it. For body decorations, the leaves of the henna plant are dried, crushed into a fine powder, and made into a creamy paste using a variety of techniques. This paste is then applied to the skin, staining the top layer of skin only. In its natural state it will dye the skin an orange or brown color. Although it looks dark green (or dark brown depending on the henna) when applied, this green paste will flake off revealing an orange stain. The stain becomes a reddish-brown color after 1-3 days of application. The palms and the soles of the feet stain the darkest because the skin is the thickest in these areas and contain the most keratin. The farther away from hands and feet the henna is applied, the lesser the color. The face area usually stains the lightest. The designs generally last from 1-4 weeks on the skin surface depending on the henna, care and skin type.
Why During Pregnancy?
In ancient times, the purpose of tattoos was for protection. In some cultures today this function still remains. A tattoo created with henna, called mehndi, was used for protection during pregnancy and birth. The net-like pattern of the mehndi expands across the stomach protectively, different symbols were sometimes used for extra protection.
Some mehndi extended onto the thighs for protection during childbirth. The purpose was to keep children healthy in the womb and protect both mother and child during pregnancy and childbirth.
Henna was regarded as having Barakah or “blessings”. Many countries including Morocco and India have traditions of applying henna during the third trimester of pregnancy.
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