There seems to be a lot of mystery here in the west about the mixing of henna paste. I wonder if it’s because of the residual mystery and magic of this ancient adornment. A green leaf that produces a dye very like the color of blood, how strange and wondrous! The fact that this reddish dye bonds to the skin, and takes over a week to naturally wear away is amazing!
The truth is, mixing henna paste is super simple. Henna powder plus liquid makes a paste. The tricky part is the consistency, it needs to be very smooth and creamy, but even that isn’t so hard to accomplish. There are nearly as many recipes for henna paste as there are artists who use it, and everyone thinks that their own paste is the best! And of course, it is!
A note about the henna powder: it must be fresh! If it isn’t fresh it doesn’t matter how you mix it, your stain results will be disappointing. Happily, it is easier than ever to get fresh henna powder here in the west, there are several very good suppliers who accept online orders and ship nearly anywhere. One of my best go-to suppliers is Khadija, of Henna Sooq – www.hennasooq.com – great, fresh henna powder, and a super sweet person who loves to help!
I don’t try to mix my henna paste when I’m in a hurry or distracted. It takes at least 24, and sometimes 48, hours for the paste to rest before I can use it. I used to carefully measure every ingredient, but now, I just add things the way I cook; a little of this, some more of that, does it look good? Does it smell good? Good!!!
Here’s my recipe:
Fresh henna powder (I love the henna powders from Rajasthan, India)
Lemon juice (bottled is fine)
Essential oils: tea tree, lavender, cajeput
First I mix the henna powder in a ceramic (or glass) bowl with just enough of the lemon juice to make it the thick consistency of toothpaste, or mashed potatoes. Even with lots of stirring and folding, the paste may still appear to have some lumps but I don’t fret about those just yet, I just make sure the powder is well mixed. Then I cover the paste with plastic wrap (let the wrap touch the paste) and leave it on the counter over night. It’s best in a warm place.
After about 24 hours (or even 48 hours if the weather is cold) I mix the paste up some more and note if almost all of the lumps have dissolved. Then I add the essential oils. I’ll drizzle in a little of each essential oil at a time, mixing and smelling it until I like it.
Then I’ll add the molasses. Again, I’ll pour in the molasses a little at a time, mixing it in until I like the way it feels. The molasses makes the paste more stretchy.
Something else to note is that I live in Southern California where the weather is very dry. If you live someplace with higher humidity, you will probably add very little molasses. Molasses is an effectivehumectant and will pull more moisture from the air, which may make your paste more runny. In fact you may not want to use molasses at all. Sometimes adding a little granulated sugar when you add your lemon juice at the first mixing is all you will need when dealing with high humidity.
At this point I’m looking at the paste consistency. I ultimately want the paste to ribbon off of the spoon. Here’s a little video of the consistency I like:
I’ll add more lemon juice, just a few drops at a time, until the paste no longer holds a peak and does that lovely ribboning off of the spoon.
Then I’ll strain it through a thin nylon sock or a nylon knee-high stocking.
Place a zip lock baggie in a wide mouth glass or jar, or even a coffee mug, and fold the top edge over the lip of the mug
Place the toe of the nylon stocking inside the baggie and fold the top of the nylon stocking over the lip of the mug like the baggie – now your stocking is inside the baggie
Spoon the henna paste into the stocking
Gather up the top of the baggie in one hand (pulling it out of the coffee mug), holding it rather firmly Gather up the top of the nylon stocking in your other hand and pull the stocking out of the baggie while holding the henna back, and straining it through the stocking
There’s a great little video on YouTube by Khadija of Henna Sooq demonstrating how to strain the henna paste:
Even if my powder is very well sifted, I strain my henna paste because however well I mix there are always sneaky little lumps. Also, if the henna powder isn’t as well sifted as I’d like, I’ll often strain the paste more than once.
Khadija uses a carrot bag, but I often strain right into a zip lock baggie, it’s just as easy to close the baggie on the strained paste and snip the corner of the baggie so I can fill my cones.
Since I don’t have any photos of my mixing process, I’ll just include a photo of my henna mixing bowl. It’s very special to me, my friend and fellow henna artist, Jen Henderson took me to one of those paint your own pottery places and we each made a henna mixing bowl for ourselves. It was awonderful day, and so much fun! I etched into the inside of my bowl a part of the little prayer that I chant when I mix my henna:
“Blessed Mother Thank you for the blessing of the hennaThank you for the warm, rich color And deep, long lasting stainThank you for the beauty of the designs and symbolsWhich celebrate your gifts and your blessingsThank you for the opportunity to touch someone’s life with grace and beauty, andThank you for the ability to earn money using the skill of my handsThe inspiration of my mindAnd the passion of my heart”~Henna Crone