Lawsonia is the tree from which some of the dyes known as henna are derived. Henna dyes are applied on hair, skin, and nails, and people have used the dyes of the Lawsonia tree since ancient Egypt in the creation of body art. Derivatives of Lawsonia are also used for dying wool and leather.
The full scientific name of the tree is Lawsonia inermis. It is of the family Loosestrife. Two popular henna dyes, natural henna and black henna, actually do not contain Lawsonia but are derived from other plants.
Lawsonia can reach heights of 19 feet (6 meters) and grows wild in parts of Africa, Asia, and Australia. As henna is harvested three times a year, it is rare for a tree to reach this height. Lawsonia is cultivated in other temperate parts of the world. The main suppliers of henna are Egypt, India, and Morocco.
The wood of the tree is often used for making tent pegs and handles for tools. The leaves are used as skin and hair dye. The oils from the tree's flowers and fruits have been used for medicinal purposes and perfume.
The bark of the Lawsonia is gray-brown, while the leaves are an oval shape. The flowers emit a perfumed scent and form in clusters at the ends of the branches. Each flowers has four petals that can come in colors including yellow, cream, and pink. The tree produces a pea-sized fruit that ripens to a brown color.
When applied to the skin, henna appears light orange and deepens to a dark brown or almost black. Called mehndi, body art created by using henna dyes is believed to bring about good luck in some cultures. In parts of India, dyes made from the Lawsonia tree are applied as part of the preparation for a wedding. In Morocco, expecting mothers have symbols painted on their bodies with henna to protect them and their baby during childbirth.
In the United States, the Federal Drug Administration has approved henna only for the use of dying hair. It is not approved for use as a skin dye. According to the Food and Drug Administration, there have been reports of adverse skin reactions when henna products are used.
For traditional medicinal purposes, henna has been used as a coagulant for treating wounds. Poultices of henna are applied for treating skin conditions. A mixture of henna and vinegar is sometimes applied to the head to relieve headaches.