Henna’s origins are a hotly debated topic. It’s commonly thought that henna originated in India, but some scholars believe it was brought there from other regions of the world. We’ll explore what the henna plant is, its native climate, where it was cultivated in ancient times, and where it’s grown today for use as a natural hair color and body art dye.
What Is Henna?
Henna (Lawsonia inermis) is harvested from the leaves of the henna tree or plant, also known as the mignonette tree and the Egyptian privet, for commercial use. The tree’s leaves contain a molecule called lawsone. Henna leaves alone don’t produce color, but making them into a paste allows the release of lawsone to dye hair, skin, and textiles.
Where Does the Henna Tree Grow?
The henna tree can’t withstand frost.¹ It grows in semi-arid zones, ideally in places where soil retains moisture. It’s harvested just after a rain or monsoon. Henna is often associated with India and the Rajasthan region in particular. However, it’s also cultivated in other parts of India, as well as Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Morocco, Afghanistan, Libya and Sudan.₂
Henna in Ancient Times
Although its history is a little fuzzy due to a lack of written documents in ancient times, some experts believe that henna originated in India. Others believe that Middle Easterners brought the plant there.₃ Evidence of henna’s early use has been found in areas where archaeological research is abundant. For example, archaeological digs in the Eastern Mediterranean turned up signs of henna’s use in body art during the Bronze Age (roughly 4000 BC to 1150 BC). Researchers found mummified remains with toes and fingers stained by what might have been henna.₄
Modern Henna Cultivation
Henna is still cultivated in the same parts of the world, with India’s Rajasthan region leading the pack commercially. It’s also grown in Australia and the southern part of the United States. Henna from different regions produces a variety of red colors. Of course, henna can also be blended with indigo and other herbs to create brown and black shades. The Henna Guys’ henna hair dye is grown in the Rajasthan state and milled into a fine powder. A finely ground powder provides a smooth paste for better application. Our henna is sold around the world by our family-operated business in the United States.
¹ Radio Interview with Catherine Cartwright-Jones; KOOP, Austin TX