The leaves of the henna plant are the source of a red-brown dye widely used for body art, known as mendhi in South Asia. First used in the Near East and South Asia, henna art is now popular around the world.
Packet of henna dye from a London market.
'Black henna' can lead to skin problems - it's best to stick to the real thing.
Body decorations are an important part of Hindu weddings and the Islamic festival of Eid al-fatr at the end of Ramadan. Henna symbolises prosperity, fertility, happiness, fortune, seduction and beauty. There are many legends surrounding the art of mendhi.
Once upon a time...
Although body art has a long history, henna use didn't become widespread until the Middle Ages. Claims that it was used in ancient Egypt or Bronze Age Europe are untrue. Its use as a body paint may have began in North Africa and the Middle East and from there it spread to South Asia.
Henna flowers are the source of mehndi oil, used for scenting hair and skin.