The word henna comes from the Arabic word Al-Henna, referring to leaves, dried and ground. This plant called Lawsonia Enermis is found in found in Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Persia, Morocco, Palestine, Yemen, Egypt, Uganda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Senegal, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and India. When the twigs are ground and mixed with hot water they become a natural dye. This dye is used as paint creating a temporary tattoo which is traditionally done on hands and feet, often before weddings. Historically, women's hands were decorated in honor and connection to fertility gods. Today, henna is also used as a popular way of applying temporary tattoos.
Making henna paste is simple. It's important that the henna you buy is fresh. it should be green and ground very fine. Stale henna will not work. Mixing henna with lemon juice will solidify the dying qualities and clove can be mixed in to darken the paint. Combine this with a bit of sugar and hot water. Pioneer Thinking offers instructions for making henna. Follow their method and you'll end up with the right consistency.
They suggest copying designs to start, but once you get comfortable with the regional techniques you can play around with your own designs. Henna body art is full of historical and cultural significance. It is now done all over the world. The wedding palm design in this image, from Flickr, shows the life cycle paired with ice crystals signifying the colder climate. One commenter points out the interesting combination of traditional design with current western design. Have you made or applied henna? What is your favorite design.