Henna (lawsonia inermis) is an flowering plant that has been harvested for thousands of years not only for the natural dye in its leaves, but for its healing and medicinal properties. It is desert plant and is thought to have been first used by the Egyptians, possibly up to 9000 years ago. The leaves themselves have cooling properties so applying henna to the skin often feels cool and refreshing, its useful for cooling the body down from a fever or in the summer heat, or soothing on burns and sunburn.
Although henna has been used for generations as body art, it wasn't widely popular in the Western world until recently. As popularity grows, new styles continue to emerge and artists are from traditional designs.
When preparing henna for body art, the leaves of the henna plant are crushed and finely sifted a number of times. The henna powder is then mixed with an essential oil (cajeput, lavendar and tea tree are most common), sugar and distilled water to form a smooth paste. The paste is left in a warm place for 4 - 24 hours to let the dye molecules release. Once the paste is ready, it is packed into small cellophane cones similar to a piping bag used for icing a cake and stored frozen or used immediately.