The FAO estimates the global trade in henna leaves and powder to be 9,000 metric tonnes. The major suppliers of henna are India, Pakistan, Iran, and Sudan. Since the first millennium BC, when henna was closely associated with the divine coupling of goddess and consort in Canaanite Israel, henna has been associated with beauty, love, and eroticism.

Europe and North America are significant but much smaller markets. Saudi Arabia is the largest importer (3,000 metric tonnes). In Europe, the biggest importer is France (250 metric tonnes), followed by the United Kingdom and Germany. In the Muslim world, the henna trade is driven by religious customs and a preference for modern cosmetics and fashion. Much of the export to Europe and North America is driven by the trend toward natural products

The earliest reference to henna is at a site discovered in Catal Huyuk, Turkey, dating back to the Neolithic period in the seventh millennium BC. It shows henna used to decorate hands and perhaps links henna to the fertility goddess.
Dioscorides notes that crushed leaves were used to dye hair orange, and a plaster made from henna leaves effectively treats inflammations and blisters.

The Bible also associates henna with beauty in Song of Songs 1:14. Henna dyes cotton, silk, and other natural fibers and leather and leather products.

A 2013 study commissioned by the European Union, and conducted by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, concluded that lawsone is safe in hair dye. Henna’s traditional perfume use is now limited to preparing an Indian or Middle Eastern aroma called attar, mixed with sandalwood. In his work Naturalis Historia, Pliny the Elder mentions a green ointment with henna used to treat sores on the head and mouth.

A compress of the henna leaves is good for burns and sprains. More recently, henna leaves have been observed to be an effective antibacterial against E. coli (Abulyazid et al., 2013). Henna leaves have shown chemo-preventive properties in studies with rats. As observed in ancient medicinal literature, the wound healing property was also studied in rats and appeared to be validated (Babili et al., 2013; Chandra Kalyan Reddy et al., 2011; Kapadia et al., 2013).

Additional reading:

Holy Herbs: Modern Connections to Ancient Plants

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