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Henna has been practiced for over 9,000 years and dates back to the Neolithic and Bronze ages. Henna is the oldest documented cosmetic and is soothing and cooling on the skin. It helps alleviate heat exhaustion, is a natural sun block and is even known to help eczema. The henna plant is grown throughout India, Africa, and the Middle East. Henna is the Persian name for a shrub known as Lawsonia inermis. It is also called mehndi, heena, and hinna. It has small, four-petaled flowers ranging from yellow to pink and its leaves produce a red dye. Twice a year the leaves are harvested, dried, and ground into a fine powder. This powder is used to dye hair red and for the ancient eastern art of mehndi. Mehndi is a simple, beautifully spiritual form of body decoration used for thousands of years. Henna contains hennotannic acid, a dye that bonds with the collagen in skin cells and keratin of fingernails and hair, leaving behind a red coloring.
Mehndi is the Hindi word describing the process of painting patterns on the body with henna paste and the resulting stains left on the skin. Using henna paste, intricate patterns are applied to the skin, traditionally on the hands and feet. In India, henna is an essential part of weddings, symbolizing the strength of love in a marriage. The bride's henna is usually extremely intricate. The groom sometimes has henna also. Tradition has it that the darker the mehindi, the stronger and longer lasting the love. Significant symbols are often added to bless the union. A lovely tradition is the hiding of the groom's name or initials in the pattern, which must be found before the wedding night can commence. Henna is used in many cultures as part of the celebration of special events, festivals, and religious holidays. During pregnancy, applying henna to the belly is believed to bless the mother and child during the difficulties of labor. It is said that henna is known for its power to protect, to bring luck, and to provide material as well as spiritual wealth.