HENNA (Pers. ḥanā,Ar. ḥennāʾ), a russet or orange dye obtained from the pulverized leaves of the henna plant, Lawsonia alba Lam. (= L. inermis/spinosa L.; fam. Lythraceae), a shrub with fragrant, usually greenish white flowers (for an accurate morphology thereof see Dymock et al., II, p. 43; Polatschek and Rechinger, p. 2). Ḥanā is not to be confused in Persia with the ornamental gol-e ḥanā “henna flower” (i.e., garden balsam, Impatiens balsamina L.), the leaves or flowers of which were/are used in China to dye red the fingernails and, occasionally, the manes and tails of horses (see Balfour, II, s.v. henna; Laufer, Sino-Iranica , pp. 334-35, 337).
Geographical distribution. Adolf Polatschek and Karl Rechinger (p. 2) mention “eastern tropical and subtropical Africa, and southern Asia” as its natural habitat. More precisely, it is indigenous to Egypt, Syria, and Arabia (Meyerhof in Maimonides, no. 149, p. 73), and is cultivated throughout the Indian subcontinent (Platts, s.v. meṅhdī; Hooper, pp. 134-35). Polatschek and Rechinger (p. 2) doubt its being “indigenous to southern Persia and Baluchistan,” though it is cultivated in some southern regions of Persia, namely Baluchistan, Hormozgān, and Kermān (Šahdād, Bam, Narmāšir, Bahrāmābād, Jiroft; see Zargari, II, p. 358; Varjāvand, p. 536; Mozaffarian, no. 4381). Already Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, in his description of Yazd in 1654, related (I, p. 171) that “they [Yazd natives] make a lot of rose water, and of another kind of water [sic], extracted from . . . hina [sic], which they use to reddeŋtheir hands [or] their nails.” According to the Dāyerat-al-maʿāref-e fārsi (s.v.), “the best henna is from Kermān” (cf. Dioscorides, 1.124, pp. 65-66, according to whom, “the best henna (kupros) grows in Ascalon and Canopus.”
Medical uses. Most of the uses, mainly external, attributed to henna in traditional (Galenic) medicine in the Islamic period (see, e.g., Ebn al-Bayṭār, s.v., tr. I, pp. 469-71 and ʿAqili Ḵorāsāni, p. 184) can essentially be traced back to Dioscorides. According to him (1.124), the leaves of henna have a binding power [because of their tannin content]; therefore chewing them is good for mouth ulcers, a cataplasm thereof cures “other [cutaneous] hot inflammations and carbuncles,” and their decoction heals [superficial] burns. Applying to the forehead a mixture of powdered henna flowers and vinegar alleviates headache. For cosmetic purposes, applying the powdered leaves macerated in soapwort juice dyes the hair yellow.
Dioscoridan and Galenic influence may be detected also in the medical uses of henna in traditions (aḥādiṯ, rewāyāt) attributed by Shiʿite transmitters of Hadith to the Prophet, Imams, etc. For instance, according to Mo-ḥammad-Bāqer Majlesi, who has extensively recorded these traditions, “Allāh safeguards against three [diseases] whoever dyes oneself with henna: joḏām “true leprosy,” baraṣ “vitiligo,” and ākela “chancre? gangrene?”; hennaing one’s head is a cure for headache; “hennaing oneself clears (yajli) the eyesight”; “henna eliminates sahak (body stink); “hennaing oneself after using nura [a depilatory paste composed of quicklime and orpiment] is a protection against leprosy”; hennaing and using meswāk (a stick of the fragrant wood of SalvadoraPersica Gaertn. used by many Arabs and Muslims to rub and clean their gums and teeth) are “among the sonan (traditional practices) of prophets (al-morsalin; Majlesi, LXXVI, pp. 89-90, 97, 99, 127, 135, CIII, p. 218).
Some of those uses have survived, with variations and additions, in local folk medicines in Persia. In 1874 Johann Schlimmer (pp. 342-43) noted the “dessicative and slightly astringent application of henna powder in Persia for superficial skin burns, excoriation, and chronic [cutaneous] ulcers.” David Hooper (pp. 134-35) mentions its usefulness “as an external application for skin disease, blind boils, and leprosy.” Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Jazā-yeri (p. 37) recommends it for various scalp affections (e.g., dandruff). More medical uses are reported from rural or tribal people. In Kurdish folk medicine, the practice of applying henna paste for headache and wounds is still followed (Ṣafizāda, p. 80). Ebrāhim Šakurzāda has reported further uses in Khorasan: for instance, applying henna with aged oil to the skin affected by leprosy (p. 232); smearing feet soles with suet and then with henna paste to heal the cracks in the heels (p. 241); introducing a little henna powder into the fundament of small children affected by pinworms (pp. 242-43); applying goat suet, a little henna, and “scorpion oil” (rowḡan-e ʿaqrab) to knife cuts hastens their healing (p. 253; for the preparation of this oil see Tonokāboni, p. 604; for the medical uses in 19th-century India of henna, which was “much esteemed by the Mahometans,” see Dymock et al., pp. 42-43).
Cosmetic uses (see COSMETICS). This use of henna is at least as old as the hennaed Pharaonic mummies. In Persia, whereas there is no record of henna(ing) in the pre-Islamic period and among Zoroastrians, we find plenty of information on its cosmetic (or cosmetico-medical) use among Muslims, which may have also been promoted by numerous “traditions,” such as the following, in praise of ḵeżāb (dyeing one’s hair, hands, etc., in general) and of hennaing in particular (these praises and recommendations may also apply to the above-mentioned “medical” uses): “Allāh did not create any tree that He likes better than the henna [plant]” (Majlesi, LXII, p. 299); “henna is the ḵeżāb (dyestuff) [par excellence] of Islam” (ibid.); see also the tradition according to which the Prophet, addressing Imam ʿAli, tells him that “[spending] one dirham on ḵeżāb is worthier than spending one thousand dirhams for the cause of Allāh,” and enumerates fourteen virtues for it; (Majlesi, LXXIV, p. 58). Further, as reported by Majlesi, some prominent religious men mixed henna with a blackening matter, namely ḵaṭmi (marshmallow), and katam (Buxus dioica Forsk.; Majlesi, XLIV, p. 203, XLVI, p. 298, LXXVI, p. 101).
Darkening the hennaed hair can be explained by the fact that in Muslim countries, on the one hand, long, black hair was considered an element of feminine beauty, and, on the other, men with white or graying hair generally disliked gaudy russet head hair, beard, and mustache (see, e.g., Olearius, tr., p. 284; Chardin, IV, p. 13). The principal blackening vegetable substance used after hennaing was wasma, a paste of the pulverized leaves of the indigo plant (nil; this dual dyestuff is still called rang o ḥanā “color and henna” and sold in traditional drugstores). Concerning wasma alone for blackening the hair, Olearius (apud Massé, tr., pp. 76-77) has a quite different report: “The Persians . . . use the herb and seed[s] or wesme [sic] . . . which they chop up . . . together with pomegranate bark . . . , add soap and arsenic, boil this concoction in spring water, and rub it on the hair . . .” Again from the Safavid period we have the following remark by N. Sanson, a French missionary sent to Persia in 1683 under Solaymān I (r. 1667-94; Pers. tr., p. 80): A Mughal prince at the latter’s court jocularly told the king that he was surprised to see no elderly or old individual among the kingdom’s grandees and army commanders! Moved by this critical remark, the king ordered those personages not to dye their beards black any longer. Other henna darkening agents were/are the juice of walnut leaves, camomile, coffee powder, etc. The tedious, long process of using henna and indigo by Persian women in old bathhouses is described by Schlimmer (pp. 242-43), and by an Italian eyewitness, Lady Carla Serena (tr., p. 154), who was in Persia in 1877-78. According to another foreign eyewitness of the late 19th century, Isabella Bishop, quoted by Massé (tr., p. 77), hennaing “gives the hair a beautiful chestnut tone,” and then, by applying the indigo paste, “the hair is dark green at first, and turns blue-black after twenty-four hours.”
Apart from the hair, hennaing one’s palms, fingers, and toe nails, and feet soles was widely practiced, particularly by women, who sometimes painted certain designs with henna on their palms, feet, and some other parts of their bodies (Massé, tr., p. 78). Concerning these designs (called negār) and drawing them (negār-bandi), Thonnelier, the translator and annotator of the Ketāb-e Kolṯum Nana (a jocular opuscule by Āqā Jamāl Ḵvānsāri [d. 1709 or 1713], in which he ridicules the superstitious beliefs and customs of women in the Safavid period, accurately reports (p. 29): “It is in public bathhouses that Persian ladies . . . dye their head hair and eyebrows [the latter with sorma], and artfully color with henna their beautiful bodies with odd designs, most often representing trees, birds and other animals, the sun, the moon, or stars. This kind of [painting] spreads on the bosom . . . and goes down to the navel, around which is generally drawn a figure decorated with rays.” Maḥmud Katirāʾi, editor of the same book, provides further information (see note 2, pp. 49-50) on negār-bandi. According to him, during hennaing the feet or painting negārs (crude pictures of a sparrow, butterfly, or floral designs), which was performed either by the lady herself or by a professional negār-painter (negārband) in the bathhouse. The lady had to rest her feet motionlessly for quite a long time on the so-called sang-e ḥanā (bandān), “henna(ing)-stone,” a special block of stone, often of white marble, on which were carved two footprints for placing the soles on, and appropriate verses, such as this distich: Rang-e ḥanā’st bar kaf-e pā-ye mobārak-at / Yā ḵun-e ʿāšeq ast ke pāmāl kardaʾi “Is this henna stain on thy blessed foot sole, or is it a lover’s blood which thou hast trodden?” Women from upper classes had their private “henna(ing) stones” (for a photo of an 18th-century elaborate marble “henna stone” see d’Allemagne, tr., II, p. 171; cf. the inaccurate description by Massé, tr., p. 78: “In Persian second-hand shops one can find what looks like a pair of clogs made of marble, on which people used to place their feet while henna was applied.”).
Allusions to ḵeżāb, particularly to “negārin” hands (i.e., adorned with henna designs), are also found in classical Persian poetry, such as: Čun dom-e qāqom karda sar-angošt siāh “She has blackened her finger tips like an ermine’s tail tip” (Kesāʾi Marvazi [10th cent.], in Deraḵšān, p. 32); Negārinā ba šamšir-at če ḥājat / Marā ḵod mikošad dast-e negārin “O sweetheart, thou needst not a sword [to kill me], [for] thy negārin hand itself killeth me” (Saʿdi [13th cent.], p. 126; see also pp. 209, 443, 613 and 626 for negārin hands, and p. 326 for ne-gārin feet); “when hennaed, thy crystalline fingertip[s] . . . make pale a five-digitated coral (panja-ye marjān)” (Rokn Jāmi [?], cited by Šaraf-al-Din Rāmi [2nd half of the 14th cent.], p. 45).
Thanks to European travelers and envoys to Persia, we have much information on the practice of hennaing hands and feet from the Safavid period onwards. Tavernier (I, p. 171), during his passage through Kermān and Yazd in 1654, noted that Yazd natives “make a lot of rosewater and of another sort of water [sic], extracted from a plant called hina [sic], which they use as a tincture to redden their hands or their nails” (by “water” he probably means henna powder diluted in water; according to an expert, no distillate (ʿaraq) is made with henna leaves or flowers in Persia). Pietro Della Valle (d. 1652) reports a curious episode during his trek to Māzandarān in 1618. He and his non-Persian, Christian wife had to spend a night at a local lady’s home in a hamlet. All the local womenfolk having gathered there to see those strangers, his wife gave every one a small gift, including some henna. After dinner, she asked them to henna their hands “in honor of the hostess . . .” because this Oriental custom of women’s gathering and hennaing while chatting “is a sign of festivity and merriment.” He adds that hennaing both hands up to wrists and sometimes drawing henna designs on them (see negār above) are believed to beautify the hands, to enhance the whiteness of forearms and arms, and at the same time to protect hands from accidental injuries; when washed the next day, the hands are stained light orange, but if the henna paste is too thick, the result will be an unsightly dark red. Olearius remarks (tr., p. 284) that another custom of Persians is to stain their hands and feet or only their fingers or nails with a “yellowish red dye,” and that, even washed every day, the stained parts remain so over fourteen days.
Jean Chardin (III, pp. 314-15; IV, p. 13) notes that both men and women usually henna their hands, feet and, sometimes, their face to avoid sunburn and to protect them from the eventual injuries caused by very cold weather or water (e.g., cracks in the skin; for the latter purpose, henna is rubbed also on horses’ legs). The hennaed body parts are kept wrapped up overnight so that the henna “takes” (cf. de Thévenot [1727?], according to whom hennaing is done “especially in winter . . . , not so much for . . . . adornment, as because it prevents chapped skin”; quoted by Massé, p. 781).
The matrimonial ḥanā-bandān. This ceremony (lit., “feast/ceremony of henna application”), of hennaing the palms, fingernails, and soles of both the bride and the groom before the wedding night, seems to be an old custom but of unknown origin and symbolic significance. Probably the oldest extant reference in Persian literature to hennaing a bride’s hands is by Rudaki (d. 329/940-41), the earliest great Persian poet: “The lāla “tulip” [but here most likely “corn poppy,” šaqāyeq] is laughing from afar in a field / like the henna-stained hand of a bride” (apud Nafisi, p. 405).
Ḥanā-bandān is performed with great local variations in procedure and elaboration in Persia even by many urbanized but traditional families. From Afghanistan we have a detailed report by Ria Hackin and Ahmad Ali Kohzad of the lengthy ceremonies of a marriage between two well-to-do urban families, including the rituals of hennaing, of which the main features are noted here. On the “henna night” (pp. 182-86), after a late dinner served at the groom’s home to the two families’ numerous guests, after midnight the groom and his close relatives and friends, preceded by local musicians singing and playing, set out for the fiancée’s home, where she already has been installed, silent and motionless, “almost concealed” under her bridal veil, while her womenfolk are bustling about. In front of her, on decorated wooden platters (ṭabaq; two or more) are arranged the presents (turban, garment, etc.) destined to be conveyed later to the groom’s home. Henna paste is spread on one of the platters. To begin the hennaing process, the girl is made to turn up the hollow of her right hand and place it on her head. Then her future mother-in-law makes a pellet with some of that henna paste, hides in it a (gold or silver) wedding ring and a candy, places the pellet on the girl’s palm, and fastens it to the hand with a special piece of silk. The girl’s sisters, cousins, etc. do the same with her. After the guests are gone, the girl’s hand is freed and the said gifts are collected. Then her mother applies that henna paste on her palms and feet, and envelops these in pieces of cloth. The henna paste must remain there overnight and is washed away the next morning. After this ceremony, late at night, the platters are taken to the groom’s home by professional ṭabaq-carriers accompanied by the musicians and a host of merrymakers. The carriers enter the courtyard while deftly dancing to the music with the platters on their heads (in this connection, see also some reports from Persia below). Then the groom’s father helps him dress with the presents sent by the other party, and, taking his son’s right hand, smears his palm and little finger with that henna paste, and covers them with pieces of cloth. Meanwhile the musicians sing a specific long, popular song, with this refrain: “Bring henna; smear his hands with it.” The unmarried friends of the groom rush to get a little of the wedding henna, for “it is believed to give them the chance to be married in the same year.”
As for Persia, a few allusions by old foreign travelers to hennaing, particularly a bride’s hands and feet, are found in our sources. For instance, Olearius (quoted by Massé, tr., p. 78; not to be found in the Pers. tr.) writes that hennaing one’s “hands, and especially nails . . . is a form of adornment . . . essentially of brides, and some [of the bridal henna paste] is distributed to the guests at the marriage feast.” William Francklin (pp. 113-14, also cited by Massé, tr., pp. 52-53) is probably the first to have spoken of šab-e ḥanā-bandi (lit., night of hennaing), which precedes the wedding. Before the ceremony, the groom sends a lot of henna to the bride’s home. Back from the public bathhouse, “they stain her hands and feet, at the same time painting her eyebrows and forehead with antimony powder called Surma.” After this ceremony the rest of the herb (sic) is sent to the groom.
Information on henna, particularly in connection with matrimonial ceremonies in the Qajar period, is more considerable. For instance, Ernst Höltzer, an Austrian telegraphist who worked in Isfahan for twenty years from late 1863, remarked that Isfahan, a city with at least 90,000 inhabitants (p. 14), had 15 henna-markers (p. 22; cf. 122 carpenters, 50 confectioners, 50 goldsmiths, and 26 tailors), each of them paying 60 tomans a year as tax (cf. 6,000 and 350 tomans of taxes paid respectively by each butcher and greengrocer); “on the night before the wedding, ten women from the groom’s family take to the bride’s private quarters (andarun, q.v.) ten pairs of women’s shoes, and a bag containing two pounds of henna” to be used for hennaing the bride after dinner at home; the next day, in a bathhouse reserved for this occasion, the bride’s womenfolk henna themselves and her hair, hands, and feet. Of course, merrymaking (eating, singing, playing music) is a necessary adjunct of these hennaing sessions (Höltzer, p. 53, evidently reporting on a wealthy family).
The relevant information quoted by Henri Massé (pp. 42-44), as well as Katirāʾi’s reports and descriptions, actually relate to the late Qajar period and are decidedly outdated; for example, the groom sending his grifts to his future wife beforehand, including henna, indigo, soap, etc.; specifically, with the wide spread of Western cosmetics, henna and wasma are no longer needed for a bride’s makeup, at least by urban families. However, some modern authors have reported the survival of variations of some old customs until recent times among the villagers, tribesmen, etc. from various regions in Persia. In some Gilān villages the bride was to keep on her head a piece of flat bread with one hand; on the palm of the other were placed a few pieces of henna paste; then a small boy was charged with taking those pieces off her hand (Faḵrāʾi, p. 279; for the intention behind the small boy’s role, see below in connection with ceremonies in Zanjān). In some rural districts in eastern Azerbaijan, if ʿId-e qorbān (Feast of Sacrifices, observed on the 10th of Ḏu’l-ḥejja) falls during the period of engagement before marriage, among the gifts sent to the fianceé’s home is “a ram with hennaed head and legs.” During the bridal ḥanā-bandān the single girls among the merrymaking company apply a little of the bride’s henna paste to their hands or finger tips. Hennaed fingertips are called fandoqča (lit. small hazelnut; cf. the similes fandoq and fandoq-band for hennaed fingertips, and fandoq bastan “to attach a hazelnut,” fandoqi kardan “to make the [fingertip look] like a hazelnut,” mentioned by Moḥammad Pādšāh, p. 3180). A separate evening is reserved to hennaing the groom’s hands in a bathhouse by his friends (Saʿidiān, pp. 275-76). In Baluchistan, the ceremony is very simple. After the bride’s ḡosl (ritual Islamic ablution), she is conducted, wearing the dress made with the cloth brought by the groom, to a corner of a room partitioned off by a white curtain from the rest of the room. She remains behind the curtain for three days, during which time her hand and feet are hennaed while the attending womenfolk sing. On the fourth day, late in the evening, on a simple wooden bed brought into that room the groom is made to lie down, and, while the local musical instruments are being played, his hands and feet are hennaed by male attendants (Saʿidiān, p. 983).
Šakurzāda has provided much information on matrimonial heannaing customs among the rural population in Khorasan, which will be summarized here. In Qāyen a close female relative of the suitor (ḵvāstgār), sent incognito to the intended girl’s home to sound out the girl’s family about an eventual marriage (ḵvāstgāri), signifies the purpose of her unexpected visit to the girl’s mother by telling her “I am bringing henna for you” (p. 171). On the evening of obtaining a [yes] answer (jawāb-estāni), a tray containing a number of gifts (an engagement ring, sugar, tea, silver coins, etc.) including also some henna, is sent to the girl’s home, where the ceremony is to be held (p. 173). In some villages the necessaries sent by the groom’s family to the bride’s before concluding the marriage contract (ʿaqd-konān) include twenty loaves of soap, three bags of henna, and a bag of indigo (p. 174). The bride’s hennaing in a bathhouse is quite elaborate. Some of the groom’s female relatives go to the fiancée’s home with a basin of henna paste, cakes of soap, some money, and sweets, and then accompany her to a bathhouse reserved for this occasion. There they light a candle secured in the middle of the henna basin. After depilating and washing the bride, they proceed to hennaing her hand and feet, but she feigns to refuse her consent until the groom’s mother, coming forward, presents to her a gold bracelet or a pair of gold drop earrings. All the while, some attending women play their drums and tambourine while singing a specific song, having a refrain with variations, e.g. “Yār-om/ʿArus ḥanā mebenda, ʿāšeq-nemā mebenda / ḥanā-ye aṣl-e Kermun (var. Kāšun) ba dast o pā mebenda” (free tr.: “My sweetheart / the bride applies genuine Kermān/Kāšān henna to her hands and feet in a way to show she is enamored”). Then every participant, taking a bit of henna from the basin, applies it to her own hands and feet (Šakurzāda, pp. 183-89).
According to two female informants from the mainly Turkish–speaking province of Zanjān, during the hennaing ceremony of the bride, attended by the close relatives of both parties and the girl’s friends (especially those who are dam-e baḵt “nubile”), the girl wears an elegant dress (but not the usual white wedding dress) and a hint of make-up. Meanwhile, a decorated sini ([large] round metallic platter) has been prepared. In its middle is placed a bowl of henna (locally, ḵinā) paste embellished with candles and small flowers and surrounded by red apples, in each of which a candle has been implanted. Late in the evening, the candles are lighted, and the platter is brought in by a good-looking female relative of the groom, who must be a bāš-i butōy woman (Turk.; lit., “having an intact head”; Pers. safid-baḵt, lit., “white-fortuned”), that is, married only once (yak-baḵta), having no co-wife, and happy in her marital life. She has also to be skilled in balancing the patter on her head so that the candles do not go out and nothing falls down from the platter as she dances slowly and coquettishly among the guests, silently asking for šābāš (<šād bāš, lit., “Be cheerful”), that is coins or bank notes thrown up over the bride (and groom in mixed gatherings) to avert ill luck from her/them (also tips given to a female dancer at a wedding); everybody (particularly marriageable girls) tries to snatch at least one of them as a sign of good luck. She finally puts down the platter before the bride after she thinks she has collected enough šābāš for her role. Then the groom’s sister or a relative, who must be “matrimonially happy,” taking a bit of the henna paste with her little finger, places it on the girl’s upturned palm along with some money, which a little boy from the groom’s family has to snatch, which is believed to render the bride pesarzā (boy-begetting). Then the groom’s other relatives place on her palm some money, which the other children and even adults rush to grab. Subsequently the henna bowl is carried around so that anybody wishing to may take some henna with her little finger to draw a design on her own hand. Meanwhile, a similar ceremony goes on at the groom’s house, but performed by the male close relatives of the bride, and the platter is brought in and turned around by a male performer; however, the first snatching boy is again from the groom’s family.
Hennaing being a sign of merriment and happiness, in Zanjān (and probably elsewhere), in cases of imminent death of a close relative or friend, his/her relatives abstain from it and continue to do so for a certain period of time as a sign of mourning (the closer and dearer the dead, the longer the period of abstention).
Magical uses. In connection with “baḵt-gošāʾi (lit., “untying the fortune/fate” of a girl remaining unmarried), a little of the paste made for a bride was taken, mixed with enough rang o ḥanā, and applied to the hair of the unlucky girl (Katirāʾi, p. 117). The “ḥanā-ye si tabārak” was also used for the same purpose. From the first of the month of Ramażān, they would once a day recite the koranic phrase “Tabāraka Allāh aḥsan al-ḵāleqin,” (Praised be Allāh, the best of creators; Koran 23:14), blowing it over a handful of henna. On the eve of the ʿId-e Feṭr (Feast of fast-breaking), they would apply the blessed henna to the hair of the girl involved, believing and hoping that the latter’s baḵt would be “untied” until the next ʿId (Katirāʾi, p. 120). In Ahvāz, a nubile girl would make some henna paste that she would place in three vases, take these to a saqqā-ḵāna (public water fountain, usually considered sanctified), and implant a candle in each henna vase while uttering the formula (ṣalawāt) for invoking God’s blessing on the Prophet Moḥammad and his descendants. Then she would light the candles, while silently begging a husband from the eponym of that fountain (Šakurzāda, p. 90). The woman who hennaed a bride’s hands and feet in the bathhouse had to be yak-baḵta; otherwise, the bride would have a co-wife (Šakurzāda, p. 205). In order to get rid of a co-wife, if she had long hair, orpiment was secretly added to her rang o ḥanā (Katirāʾi, p. 265).
Other uses. Henna is still used occasionally for embellishing horses’ legs and sometimes their manes. The mane and tails of horses, donkeys, and mules were hennaed in Shiraz during the Nowruz until a few decades ago. As attested by Chardin (III, pp. 371-72), this adornment was current in 17th-century Persia. It was customary, especially in winter, to henna the legs as well as the whole length of the horses’ bodies up to the chest and, sometimes, the heads. “Though it is said that this protects [horses] against the cold, this is rather by way of adornment, for it is practiced in various places and in all seasons. As a [mark of] distinction for the king’s horses, a lace pattern with large teeth and with fleurons is painted [with henna] on the bodies” (on hennaing horses’ manes and tails in 19th-century China and the Indian subcontinent, see Balfour, s.v. henna and Platts, s.v. meṅhdī). In Persia, they sometimes henna the back and flanks of a sheep for adornment (Forutan, p. 33). In local industry, to obtain a fast black dye, “the fibers are first dyed in henna, then in an extract of one of the [two] indigo varieties . . . grown near Bam . . . , [which are] dried and ground” for this purpose (Wulff, Crafts, p. 192).
Cultivation, production, and export. Reliable, up-to-date official data in these connections are not available. The following pieces of information, sometimes contradictory, have been culled from occasional reports or periodical articles. According to Manṣur Aminizāda’s report (2002), the area under henna cultivation in Šahdād (Ker-mān Province) was 130 ha in 1341 Š./1962-63, but it has now decreased to about 2 ha; in Bam šahrestān (including Narmāšir, etc.), 850 ha of henna plantation was reported in 1373 Š./1994-95 (p. 30). In Šahdād the average produce of dried henna leaves was 4-6 metric tons per ha, but has now decreased to about 1,600-1,800 kg, a 40 percent diminution during the previous decade. The main reason for this overall diminution of henna production in the Kermān area seems to be the relatively very high cost of henna farming (about 2,162,000 rials per ha), which discourages most farmers (unsupported by the government subsidies or help) from taking proper care of their plantations and drives them to engage in the much easier, much less complicated, and more profitable “truck farming” (vegetables, melons, etc.; Aminizāda, p. 31). An earlier report (Bahāʾ-al-dini et al.) indicates that in the agricultural year 1984-85 about 2,400 ha were under henna plant cultivation in the whole province of Kermān (p. 35).
Although there is no henna plantation in Yazd Province, the henna powder available for domestic use and for export is labeled “ḥanā-ye Yazd,” because diligent Yazd businessmen buy in advance all the Kermān henna leaves produce, transport it to the city of Yazd, where it is ground in special stone mills and then bagged up for marketing (Vaḵšuri, p. 28; Forutan, p. 78). According to ʿAlāʾi Yazdi (p. 32; referring to her 1987 study), in Yazd there were ninety such mills (locally called sang-e mā-zāri) that were used for pulverizing henna leaves, etc. (māzār is the Yazdi term for the owner and/or operator of the mill in question).
As to exportation, the available figures are scanty and disconnected. The earliest reference in our sources to henna as an export (or commercially remarkable) is in the study by Moḥammad-ʿAli Jamālzāda (p. 36), but he does not mention either its amount or destination. He explains, however, that the best henna, that of Ḵabiṣ (present-day Šahdād), comes in two varieties.
According to Bahāʾ-al-dini et al. (p. 35), in 1978, 18,000 kg of henna and sedr (powdered leaves of Christ’s-thorn, Ziziphus spina-Christi Willd., used as a hair shampoo), valued at 870,000 rials, but in 1985, only 5,040 kg of second-grade henna, valued at 857,000 rials, were exported to England. According to ʿAlāʾi Yazdi (pp. 32-33), the largest amount of henna comes from the Jiroft area, because at some places henna branches and leaves are harvested three to four times a year. Yazd stone mills produce 7-10 thousand tons of henna powder, of which about 3,000 tons were exported legally, about 2,000 tons were smuggled out “through Kurdistan until recently,” and the rest was for domestic use. The value of exported henna in 1364 Š./1985-86 was about 17 million rials, and it amounted to 40 million in the following year.
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Originally Published: December 15, 2003
Last Updated: March 22, 2012
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Vol. XII, Fasc. 2, pp. 182-188