For centuries, mehndi - the art of henna painting on the body - has been practiced in India, Africa, and the Middle East, where the henna plant is believed to bring love and good fortune, and to protect against evil. Mehndi is traditionally practiced for wedding ceremonies, during important rites of passage, and in times of joyous celebration. A paste made from the crushed leaves of the henna plant is applied to the skin, and when removed several hours later, leaves beautiful markings on the skin that fade naturally over 1 to 3 weeks.
Besides being the key ingredient in mehndi, henna has also been used to dye the manes and hooves of horses, and to color wool, silk, and animal skins, as well as men's beards. Studies of mummies dating back to 1200 BC show that henna was used on the hair and nails of the pharaohs.
Until the art of mehndi became hot news in 1996, henna was mostly used in the United States as a hair dye. Widely recognized now as a wonderful way to dye the skin and to achieve the look of a tattoo, traditional henna uses and application processes have gone contemporary. Although some will always prepare their own henna paste, mehndi kits of varying quality, with foolproof instructions and convenient stencils, can be purchased in many retail and online outlets. [Source: EarthHenna]