All this said about henna, and not one word about how to make it and use it. First off, there are many things you should know about it, like first off, Do Not buy the "pre-made" henna mixes. Typically henna has a shelf life of about 4 days, and pre-made henna you find in the store has preservatives in it which are not good for your skin. Secondly the type of henna you buy is very important. The better the quality of henna, the better your art will come out.
What should one look for in a good henna? First off avoid anything called "black henna", every book I have ever read on henna and mehndi have always said this is bad stuff despite what the label might say. Black henna is full of harsh dyes that could do permanent damage to someone's skin, so be careful. Secondly, even though a henna claims to be the best make sure to look at it, is it a bright earthy green, and make sure to smell it, does it smell nice and fresh like a leaf you just picked? The fresher your henna is, the better and stronger the stain it leaves will be. Also be sure to avoid anything that is marked as a "hair color" product, since those typically contain additives that are bad for your skin.
Now that you have a good henna picked out and bought, what else will you need? You cannot just add water to it and go from there. The traditional recipe calls for:
later you will also need:
The lemon sugar mix should not be added to your henna, but will be used later.
To make henna you need to start it about 12 hours before you plan on using it, the longer it sits (to a certain point) the better it is. So, to start making it you need to take your tea bags, water, coffee, tamarind, and cloves, and stick it all in a saucepan and boil it. Once it reaches a boil, let it simmer for an hour, the longer it boils the stronger it will become. It should cook down some over the hour's time. After that hour is up, turn off the heat and let it cool down. Once the liquid is cool, take the henna and put it in a ceramic bowl, and add the eucalyptus oil, and slowly, teaspoon by teaspoon add the liquid to the powder till it's the consistency of toothpaste. Note, you may not use all the liquid you made. Once you have it the consistency you want it (think toothpaste) cover the bowl in plastic wrap and set it somewhere that will remain at room temperature and out of sunlight, let it sit over night or for at least 12 hours.
In the mean time, seize the moment to cleanse your skin, and free it from hair and oils. Washing it with a mild soap, and moisturizing it with an oil (olive will work), will help your henna stain last longer on your skin. Another important tip is that the warmer your body is, the darker your henna stain will be, so it is good to take a warm shower right before you apply your henna, and drinking peppermint tea is a traditional way of raising someone's body temperature.
What do you do with this stuff 12 hours later? Find a small pastry tube, or a puffy paint squeeze bottle and fill it with your henna, this will make it easier to apply. I would recommend figuring out what you want to draw on yourself before you start. You might also want to practice tracing your pattern with your empty instrument. Remember to work from the center out, and from the wrist to the fingertips (or ankle to toes, whichever) since it makes it easier to hide mistakes. Also keep in mind that if you are having someone else do your hands (both at the same time) you will not be able to do even the most simple task for at least two hours. And when picking out patterns, remember that traditionally the feet have the same pattern while the hands (which are not usually seen together like feet are) can be contrasts without drawing too much attention.
Now that it is on, how do I care for my henna? The first step would be to let it dry, you might want to help it by sitting in the sun, or by using a hair dryer. After your henna is dry, use the mixture of lemon juice and sugar (applying it with a cotton ball) dab the mixture onto the plant bits that are stuck to your skin. The lemon juice sugar mix helps the plant mix to stick to your skin, and also helps your skin to react to the henna. How long should you leave the henna stuck to your skin? The short answer is, "as long as you can stand it". Eventually it will stick on fairly tight (most of it) and be fairly hard to scrape off. But the longer the henna stays on, the darker it will be, leaving it on for two hours will leave a stain, but it will not be as dark as someone who leaves it on all day and all night. How do you sleep with it on? Since it's already dry, and hopefully it has a few applications of the lemon sugar mix, it should be fairly easy to keep from messing up. First wrap it in a paper towel, toilet paper, extra cloth, or something that won't move much while you sleep. Then go to bed. When you wake up it should be much like when you went to sleep. After a while the henna will start to fall off naturally, but you may wish to scrape it off. Also keep in mind that henna is rather funny, right after you scrape it off, your skin may only appear light orange, but a few hours later it may darken to a dark brown, rubbing oil into your stain (twice a day, no more) will help it's true color stand out. Also remember that henna is a different color on every person who wears it and where they where it. Henna can range from a light orange to a deep dark brown depending on your skin type and where you put it. Since the soles of your feet, and the palms of your hands are thicker skin, they hold the stain longer than your back and stomach will (and on some people your back and stomach may not even hold the color at all). Keep this in mind when choosing an area to work on.
How long will it last? The length of time your henna will last depends on your skin, and upon how well you take care of it. Chlorine is very, very bad for your henna stain, and will bleach it out rather quickly. Avoid all bleach products, also avoid anything that causes your skin to regenerate quickly, things like steam baths, or exfoliating, also choose an area to work on that will not be subjected to a lot of rubbing from your clothing.
If you take care of your henna designs they typically last one week to up to a month. In Indian cultures as long as the henna designs last on a newly wed bride, she doesn’t have to lift a finger to do anything around the house, but rather has a servant do it for her, even things like bathing. It's also said that the darker the henna stain is on a bride, the more her mother-in-law will favor her. This lends itself to belief in that for a henna stain to be dark a woman has to hold very still for the artist to put it on correctly, naturally lending the bride to having more patience than her less dark counterpart.
Ok ok ok, but why henna and where did it come from? Henna is an amazing plant that grows in the warm climates of the Middle East and South Asian areas. About 5000 years ago people discovered that if they ground and spread the paste over their skin it was much cooler (temperature wise) than if they left their skin alone. Also they figured out that even after the plant was removed from their skin, the stained area remained cooler than the rest of their skin. Also since henna reduces the amount a person sweats, it may have been used as an anti-perspirant. Henna also has a whole bunch of folklore around it including a cure for aching teeth, sore stomachs, colds, flus, as well as bringing good luck to the wearer.
Now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about henna, go and buy some and play around with it. You'll have fun I promise. For more information find a book in the library.
infromation from various Middle Eastern women, and from a mehndi book called "The art of Mehndi by Sumita Batra henna body painter to the stars"