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Henna/The Culture and Art of Henna

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Question
Hello Ms. Jones,
I am interested in Mehndi and henna painting, and am looking into it a bit.  I'm interested in learning not only about henna's art, but I'd like to learn a bit about its history and use in various religions and cultures.

First off... the art medium:
-Which medium of henna paste do you prefer (pre-made paste, powder,etc...# Why?
-Is there a correct process for applying henna?
-What do you personally do after applying the paste?  Do you wrap it?  Do you use a lemon-spritz?
-When doing henna at a large gathering, how can you tell if someone is allergic to henna or any of the ingredients in the paste?
-Are there any ways to prevent an allergic reaction to the paste?

Now the cultures/religions that use henna:
-How and when do you believe henna painting began?  What reasons do you have to support this opinion?
-What role does henna play in different cultures/religions #what holidays is it used for, how is it used, what does it symbolize,what designs/patterns are typical in each culture, etc...#
-How has henna's use evolved over the years?
-When and how did henna become popular in the United States?
-What type of people traditionally do henna #I know it's mostly practiced by women, but why, when, where, and how?)

Is there any more information you can share with me about this art form?

Are there any sources you can recommend.

Thank you SO much for sharing your expertise!
Sincerely,
Belle

Answer
Hi Belle,
Will answer your questions with some of my own answers, but then I'm also going to refer you to some thorough and reliable resources to dig as deeply as you'd like in your studies of the culture and art of henna.

-Which medium of henna paste do you prefer (pre-made paste, powder,etc...# Why?

Personally, I prefer buying my henna powder fresh from Darcy at http://www.hennalounge.com and making my own paste.  I prefer this because I know Darcy personally, she knows the farmers/family who grow and supply her henna, she marks all her stock by date so freshness is guaranteed, and the powder will last over a year in my freezer, so I can make up batches of paste in whatever size I need as I move through the year.  Also, by making my own paste, I am 100% in control of the ingredients and mix -- and I can know 100% what to tell my clients to check for allergy based on ingredients, etc.  

-Is there a correct process for applying henna?

NO!  Absolutely no way.  There are so many ways for applying henna.  You can roll your own cones, buy pre-rolled cones, use reusable icing bag, use a paint brush or stick, or try a syringe.  The only "correct" way is the way that it feels best to you to work with it.  I personally like rolling my own cones so I can control the tip size as I wish and then the applicator feels "right" in my hand when applying.  I feel very shaky using something like a paint brush-- but that doesn't make a paint brush "wrong"... it's just not what works for me.  It's all any experiment.  I encourage you to PLAY and find what works for you.

-What do you personally do after applying the paste?  Do you wrap it?  Do you use a lemon-spritz?

I personally use honey in my mix, so I don't do much of anything after applying the paste except to make the person sit still and let it dry thoroughly before moving around a lot.  The honey makes the dried paste a bit pliable, so you can move around without it flaking off immediately.  If I have someone who has to drive right afterward or is going to be sitting all day in a ritual like bridal party, I might cotton swab some lemon sugar over it OR wrap it with paper towel and tape.  But I try to make things as easy as possible -- people don't like dealing with fuss.


-When doing henna at a large gathering, how can you tell if someone is allergic to henna or any of the ingredients in the paste?

You need to know 100% what is in your paste and be extremely TRANSPARENT about that at events.  You need to post signs that list your ingredients.  When people sit down with you, you need to go thru ingredients list and ask if they are allergic.  More than that, I suggest you ask if they have any blood or liver disorders, too.  And if someone is less than 38 weeks (full term) pregnant.  I will not henna anyone with allergy, liver/blood disorder, or who is less than full term if pregnant.  If you don't understand WHY on these things, you need to educate yourself.  

Your best source for education on these things will be sources like HennaPage and HennaTribe.  Even there you'll find some people don't act as cautiously as I do, but I feel, better safe than sorry.  And given that I've had two babies die at birth, I simply do not want to risk doing something to a pregnant woman that has the potential to drop her body temperature (henna is used traditionally to reduce fever) -- and then have that drop in body temperature que her body to go into labor early, etc.  So I am extremely cautious.  

http://www.hennapage.com/henna/encyclopedia/pregbirth/index.html

http://www.hennapage.com/henna/encyclopedia/medical/g6pd.html

http://www.hennapage.com/henna/encyclopedia/medical/neonatal.html

http://www.hennapage.com/henna/encyclopedia/medical/


-Are there any ways to prevent an allergic reaction to the paste?

Use a cautious and simple mix for your paste.  As long as the person has no blood or liver disorder that would react to just plain henna, then you can minimize allergy reactions by not including high-allergy-reaction ingredients.  So don't use nut oils, don't use any chemical additives.  Try very basic:  henna powder, hot water, lavender oil, honey.  

Even at that, I've come across a few people allergic to lavender, so when they saw it on my ingredient list at my booth, they opt'd out.  Better safe than sorry!

-How and when do you believe henna painting began?  What reasons do you have to support this opinion?

I'm going to refer you to The Henna Page encyclopedia for this.  The woman behind the info there has spent YEARS researching and done her PhD dissertation on the cultural and historical context of henna.  It has lots of beginnings.  It has lots of styles.  It has everything from utilitarian to decorative uses.

http://www.hennapage.com/henna/history/index.html


-What role does henna play in different cultures/religions #what holidays is it used for, how is it used, what does it symbolize,what designs/patterns are typical in each culture, etc...#
-How has henna's use evolved over the years?
-When and how did henna become popular in the United States?
-What type of people traditionally do henna #I know it's mostly practiced by women, but why, when, where, and how?)

Again, for all these questions, I'm going to encourage you to do your own homework by exploring at Henna Page.  Below are a few starting points on that site, but you'll find any entire encyclopedia there -- read it till your heart is content:

http://www.hennapage.com/henna/encyclopedia/bride/index.html

http://www.hennapage.com/henna/what/freebooks/HPJpp2.pdf

http://www.hennapage.com/henna/encyclopedia/traditions/index.html

http://www.hennapage.com/henna/encyclopedia/oral_hist/

http://www.hennapage.com/henna/schools/index.html

-Is there any more information you can share with me about this art form?

The last resource I'll offer is my own free eBook, All Things Henna.  It's available for free download at:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/kara-lc-jones/all-things-henna/ebook/product-6451651.ht

Hope those are helpful starts!
Thanks so much...
k-

Henna

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Volunteer


Kara L.C. Jones

Expertise

I can help with questions about henna. Feel free to contact me with questions about the henna plant, henna powder, making paste, doing body art, using henna in visual art mediums, all-natural vs. "black" henna, historic/cultural context of henna, process of creating designs, learning to apply henna paste, etc.

Experience

I spent 7 years working with henna almost exclusively as my creative tool. Have studied all the materials via Henna Page and Henna Tribe, both of which are great resources for any person interested in henna. I am an all-natural henna artist only though I do sometimes use indigo, tumeric, or jagua for alternative colors. But I will not ever endorse chemically treated henna or it's use. Since 2010, my focus has shifted to Grief & Creativity Coaching. Henna is now just one of many, many creative tools I use in my work. That said, I'm still glad to share whatever knowledge I can with you about henna specifically.

Organizations
Henna Tribe, The Creative Grief Studio

Publications
See: http://www.motherhenna.com/seen.htm

Education/Credentials
See: http://www.motherhenna.com/about.htm

Past/Present Clients
Seattle University, Mekosun, Plain Old Farm, Oasis Market, Lavender Growers, Vashon Island School District, Vashon Friends of the Library, and more.

My focus has shifted to more of a coaching role where I use lots of creative tools -- including henna -- to address life changes, grief, loss, death, etc. I'm still glad to answer henna questions since I spent many years studying that particular tool. But to see the full range of work I do, see www.MotherHenna.com

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