Henna paints a bright picture for people who are dyeing to be different.
A month ago hairdresser Wynne Mihura thought of hair when the topic of dyeing came up.
Now, she's dying to talk about putting color on her skin, not her locks.
Just back from a three-week trip to Morocco, Mihura has more than souvenirs to remind her of her first trip abroad. She has a scorpion, spice leaf and flower designs temporarily imprinted on her hands and feet. The designs were achieved using henna dye. Henna is a dry oil shrub with small green, fragrant leaves. When crushed and mixed with water and oil the green turns color and once applied to the hair or skin, leaves a red, burnt orange or brown tint.
``My feet never felt so wonderful,'' Mihura said.
It all happened through the kindness of strangers. Mihura and her son, Terry Benson, were on a trip to the north African country to visit Benson's high school-age daughter Lyric, who lives in Casablanca with her mother.
After visiting with Lyric, Benson and Mihura struck out on their own. While riding a train they missed an exit to the capital city of Rabat. They got off the train at the next exit and began to search for a taxi to take them back.
A stranger saw that the two Americans were having difficulty and asked them to come home with him as guests of his family. After some reluctance, they agreed.
``They took us in and treated us just like family,'' Mihura said.
Benson and Mihura stayed one night before moving on to visit another city, but the family insisted that they return the next week on their way back. They agreed.
``When we got back to their house they said the next day was for Wynne and that they had henna for me,'' Mihura said. ``Well, I didn't know what that meant.''
The family hired a local henna artist to come and decorate Mihura's hands and feet. The process took about five hours and cost about $6, Mihura said.
``It burned a little at first, but then it was OK,'' she said. ``She did it all free-handed, feet first.''
Mihura left the thick paste on overnight and when she woke up in the morning she discovered that much of the henna had rubbed off on the sheets. She washed her hands and when the rest of the dried paste came off, what was left was the dark, rich henna color.
``She was intrigued by what was happening, but she was more excited about the generosity of the people helping us,'' Benson said. ``It's very interesting because it's entrenched in their culture spiritually.''
Decorative henna is often used for special occasions in India, parts of Africa and the Middle East. It's known for its healing properties and fragrance. It softens skin, colors and is used as a haircare product as well. Many older women refer to it as ``El m'hanna,'' meaning affections and tenderness. Most decorative henna designs are worn by women, but in small villages men wear them, too. Once applied to the skin, the color lasts up to three weeks.
Henna, popular in India since the 12th century, is gaining popularity around the world. The Community Mercantile, 901 Miss., sells henna haircare products that can also be used for skin. The Casbah, 803 Mass., has Mehndi kits, complete with design ideas and instructions.
``When we saw them (kits) we thought they were really interesting,'' Casbah co-owner Terri Faunce said.
The kits arrived about four months ago and have been selling steadily ever since, Faunce said.
``People are always very intrigued by it,'' she said. ``I think a lot of people like to be creative.''
For Mihura, her first experience may not be her last. Lyric will be moving to the United States to attend college this fall and is learning to apply henna as a way to help with college expenses. Mihura may well be one of her clients.
``I just think it's so fascinating,'' Mihura said. ``And it's so beautiful.''
-- JL Watson's voice message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.