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Temporary body decoration with henna

The Indian name for henna is mehendi, it's a medium sized multiple branching shrub with small pinkish white flowers in bunches. The leaves, flowers, seeds and bark of the plant are the useful parts and are used for medicinal as well as cosmetic purposes. When crushed, the leaves leave a fragrant and pleasant smell behind. Leaves are used both in fresh as well as dry form. The name henna arrived from the Arabian word hina, meaning scent.

Henna is cultivated in many parts of world, most commonly in India. The leaves contain coloring matter, which leaves behind a reddish colour and pleasing odour. A paste prepared from fresh crushed leaves or from powdered dry leaves is freely available in the market and is used for cosmetic as well as medicinal purposes.

Henna is used for coluoring white or grey hair and as a conditioner. It is also used by people who are victims of leucoderma where few other natural colouring agents like amalaki (emblica officinalis), manjishtha (rubia cordifolium) etc.are included for better results.

Henna is effective in skin problems like palmo-planter keratoderma where burning sensation of the skin is the chief complaint. The paste is applied locally and allowed to dry. This is supposed to release heat from the body and thus provide relief. In diabetic neuritis where burning sensation of the soles at nighttime is a complaint, henna gives desired relief. In prickly heat, boils and minor burns, henna is the medicine of choice. For insect bites, bruises and inflammatory conditions of the skin, henna has proven its merits. Some ayurvedic practitioners use this medicine in conditions like psoriasis and claim results, though this needs more research. Beauticians claim results of henna in treatment of baldness and alopecia areata/ totalis. This again needs systemic clinical trials before any conclusion can be derived. In burned out cases of leprosy, which is mainly a problem in the developing part of the world, henna can be used to give smoothness to skin that has lost its texture.

The seeds of the plant are powdered and mixed with real ghee (clarified butter) and this is an effective medicine for dysentery. Alone or taken with buttermilk, they help in recovery from dysentery especially of the chronic kind. Powdered seeds or a decoction prepared from powdered bark is a good medicine for liver disorders. In conditions like cirrhosis where all other measures have failed, henna may help in giving some relief from enlargement of liver and associated problems.

In conditions like sore throat, the decoction is used for gargling. Ayurvedic gynecologists recommend intravaginal packs of henna in treatment of leucorrhoea, cervicitis, ulcers on female genitalia and vaginismus (burning in vagina). In post-coital burning, henna is said to give relief to the female partner. Strict and proper ascetic measures such as using decoctions of henna instead of using quack pack for intravaginal douches is the right and scientific method.

The juice of fresh leaves is used for early or involuntary ejaculation and spermatorrhoea i.e. involuntary loss of semen without reaching orgasm. This treatment should be tried under medical supervision. The recommended dose is two teaspoonfuls of fresh juice taken before retiring to bed. This dose should not be increased for any reason.

In short, henna is mainly used in skin and allied conditions. It has a place in gynecological materia medica as well. It is mainly used for cosmetic purpose and is a boon to people who suffer from discolouring of skin for any reason.

By Dr. Satish Kulkarni


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