My Mehndi Recipe



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SievesGet Good Powder
Sifting your henna
The adherence of Henna

Would you believe that no set formula exists for making mehndi paste? Each artist has his or her own personal preferences, and in the same way you can use basic ingredients, in various combinations, to create a unique recipe. Use this page for *guidelines* on mehndi paste preparation. I offer different alternatives for mixing mehndi, but the ingredients and methods available to you may be more or less complex than what I offer here.

If you would like to see the new wave in henna preparations, visit Catherine Cartwright Jones's site,, which describes new ingredients (including various essential oils such as cajeput, geranium, and tea tree oil) as well as new time frames for you to get the best henna design possible. In my own recipe, I'll explain how I incorporate essential oils.

Old powder vs. new powderStep 1 to a good henna paste: you *must* have good henna powder to work with.  The picture to the right exemplifies my original attitude toward quality henna powders, that old powder is dull in color and that new powder is brighter. However, I'm posting new information here (9/18/2002), which I learned during my most recent trip to India.

New henna powder generally appears green, while old henna is much more muted and may appear slightly brown. BUT . .  Because of this tendency, many suppliers, particularly henna suppliers in India, have started to add green dyes to make henna powder look very green (see the "new henna powder" picture above), but the stain produced may not differ from duller powders. Additionally, according to street henna suppliers as well as Usha and Ekta Shah, mehndi artists in Mumbai, some companies add other leaf powders, colored sand, and twigs to henna, thus decreasing costs and, simultaneously, decreasing the quality of henna produced. Many commercially packaged powders may be labeled 100% natural henna, but in reality they may be only 20%-40% henna. Thus, remember: There is no way to tell the quality of a henna powder by its color. So here are my tips in selecting powders:

  1. Read as many websites as you can to see which suppliers artists tend to use. I have many links to artists and henna suppliers on my website. Use these resources and visit

  2. Get a small amount of henna powder (100 grams or so) before committing to a larger quantity from a supplier. Ask for samples if possible.

  3. Avoid buying henna from grocers because you never know how long these powders have sat on the shelf.  The $1 or so price tag may attract you, but you risk buying very low quality henna.

  4. Avoid black hennas and "herbal" hennas. Do not use hennas that are intended for hair.

  5. You will know good mehndi powder when you use it. First, it will have a very stringy texture when you mix it, even in plain water. As an earmark try lifting  a spoon of paste; it should come off the spoon smoothly and in a thin string, like molasses or honey. Good henna also tends not to stick to the sides of your mixing container. It is viscous and smooth.

  6. Good henna will stain your skin a light orange within minutes of application. 

  7. Good powder is also fresh powder; to maintain the freshness of your henna, store it in a sealed container in the frig or freezer, with minimal exposure to air. Henna works optimally for a uear after purchase, but will still stain adequately for a few years after as well.

Step 2 to good henna paste: Make sure that your henna is filtered well. It should not contain any twigs or fibers, which commonly appear in coarser grades of henna that are intended for the hair. henna powderf you click on the image to the left, you will see that this  powder exemplifies the residual fibers you obtain after sifting out the larger grains. Sifting henna is a tedious process, so I recommend that you try to buy sifted varieties of henna. Nevertheless, even if you buy your powder pre-filtered (find the "triple-sifted variety), strain it just in case and see what twigs you find; you may be surprised to see how much smoother paste will be the more times you strain your henna. Above you can see pictures of my filtering devices, which can be nylon cloth fixed to a sewing hoop, an industrial-grade sieve, a tea strainer (I only recommend this for getting lumps out of henna, though), or a nylon stocking stretched over a mixing bowl. If you choose not to sift your powder before mixing, straining it through a nylon stocking will give you the same effects that sifting would, in addition to removing any lumps you attain in paste.

The quality of your henna, as I have said above, is paramount to the quality of your mehndi.  You may notice that the color will be of the same quality and last the same duration that your specially mixed mehndi was.  Nevertheless, adding ingredients like lemon, eucalyptus oil, a sugary substance, and tea, can improve the usability and staining ability of your mehndi, in addition to adding a host of wonderfully sweet nice smells to accompany your design.

Ingredient ListMixed henna paste (I use the ingredients highlighted with an asterisk)

Main Ingredients

  • *Lemon or Lime Juice - Henna only releases its dye at a low pH, so adding something acidic to your henna will help to improve and catalyze the dye-release process. Lemonade concentrate is an appropriate form of this ingredient as well.

  •  *Essential Oil - The most commonly used essential oil in henna art is eucalyptus oil. Often henna companies sell "mehandi" oils or "nilgiri" oils, which are combinations of various essential oils. These days, artists look for individual oils with high terpene content; such as tea tree oil, cajeput oil, or terpeneol. Artists balance out the strong scents of these oils with milder floral oils. Be careful when using essential oils; they may irritate the skin. When used liberally, oils can help your henna dye to near-black stains, but they will also make a dent in your wallet; they're very expensive. Also, using more essential oils will shorten the life of both your henna paste and your eventual stain.

Other Ingredients

  • Tea (or Coffee)- not necessary, but gives a nice smell and helps to give an initially darker stain. Artists experiment with various "henna brews," to which they add a variety of extra ingredients such as methys seeds, tamarind paste, dried limes, etc.

  • *Sugar, sugar syrup - Sugar increases your paste's ability to absorb moisture because of its water absorptive properties. It will prevent your paste from drying too early. People also use sugar (glycerine as well) to increase paste stickiness

  • *Tamarind Paste (Tamarindo, Tamicon brands). You can boil tamarind paste in your tea or add it straight to paste to improve paste stickiness, acidity, and viscosity (stringiness).

  • Fenugreek seeds (Known as Methi ka dana in India).  Boil these seeds in your tea concoction and strain them out before adding to you henna; they give henna a more stringy consistency. Boiled Okra juice creates the same effect.

  • Yogurt or Egg - traditionally used in hair henna, you can experiment with these in your skin henna as well.

  • Cloves - Cloves are mordants, similar to the oils that you can use on your skin. Artists often boil cloves in their tea brews, but watch out; you may find clove-spiked henna to be a skin irritant. 

  • Titanium powder - makes paste smoother

  • Wine/wine vinegar - properties analogous to lemon juice

  • Iced tea - properties analogous to tea, sugar and lemon


Foot mehndiHere is a general mehndi recipe which can afford many different variations:  For one mehndi cone, which can cover two hands fully, I take 1 heaping teaspoonful of mehndi powder in a stainless steel container (although some people suggest a plastic, glass, or ceramic container), add a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, a 1/2 teaspoon of tamarind paste, and as much lemon juice as I need, blending thoroughly. After getting out all of the lumps, I allow the paste to sit overnight, covered tightly (get out all air bubbles).

The next morning, I add a half-teaspoon of essential oil (I use both tea tree and eucalyptus) to my henna, and mix thoroughly. Next, I cover the container and allow at least five hours to pass. You'll know that the dye has released when the top part of the henna is brown and brown liquid is seeping out of the paste.

The trick to making the paste is that you have to add the right amount of liquid such that the mehndi is neither too thick nor too thin. Generally, mix a 3:2 proportion of liquid to powder. A way to judge whether you have the right consistency for the paste is to take a spoonful of the mehndi paste, hold it over your container, seeing if the mehndi falls back gently back into the container. If it falls in a bit 'goopily,' the mehndi of the right consistency. Really good henna will fall in "strings." 

Having a paste of the correct viscosity for your application method is essential.  Stringy and fine mehndi paste will allow you to create fine lines.  Make sure that you keep extra liquid and extra mehndi powder to correct for any mistakes. Essentially, making mehndi paste takes practice in trail and error.  Whatever you do, always be sure to remove any and all lumps from your henna paste; mixing the paste thoroughly is a crucial step to having a good quality and easy to use paste. 

Another great recipe

My aunt suggested to me a recipe I used to use at home, which she had learned from masters in mehndi from India.  Basically, take water, tea leaves (I used 2 lipton tea bags), a few seeds of methi ka dana, and some tamarind paste, and boil this mixture until it reduces to half its original volume.  Strain the tea (to get rid of the grains of methi and tamarind) and allow it to cool completely.  Then add the henna and eucalyptus oil that you need (the general ratio is 1:1 liquid to solid). I usually add about 1/8 teaspoon sugar as well. Blend the paste completely, and allow it to sit, covered, for at least two hours. The premise behind waiting for the tea to cool is, that if you add hot tea to the henna, the henna will cook somewhat and therefore will become more grainy and more difficult to use.  Allowing the henna to sit for 2 hours or better yet, overnight, will help the powder to dissolve better into the liquid. 

Mehndi on the BackThe person who recommended to me to use iced tea said, "I have been experimenting with mehndi & discovered I had better results with a powdered instant ice tea mix than with regular tea bags.  The mix has sugar and lemon juice powder, and I mixed about twice as much mix as mehndi powder, or just until you get a really dark color.  It tends to make the mehndi paste adhere better, and tend to stay creamier, and wet longer."   I haven't experimented with the iced tea myself, but it sounds like the idea could work considering the ingredients in the powdered mix.  This person also suggested the wine vinegar.  She once saw a recipe calling for wine and decided to replace it as such.  She said that she got a very nice color, but the henna also fell off the skin very quickly.


A key to henna that sticks to your skin is adding sugar or some sticky substance to it. In my most recent henna uses, the paste has stuck to my skin like glue simply because I added a little sugar to the paste. Believe me, a tad of sugar goes a long way - not only to make the paste more sticky, but to increase the water absorbance of the henna.

I have also discovered that the more thinly you apply mehndi, the better it adheres to the skinMixed Henna Paste (places like blackened fingertips or thick lines tend to have mehndi fall off more quickly).  Also, applying lemon-sugar solution with a good proportion of sugar increases the henna's adherence.  As far as getting nearly-black mehndi goes, I think that I have discovered that time is an increasingly important factor in the ability for henna to stain.  While I usually keep henna on for about 45 minutes to 2 hours, getting a dark brown as a final color, I notice that the blacks really don't occur until you keep henna on for over 3 hours, preferably for 4-6 hours. Some people recommend keeping henna on overnight, though I haven't noticed huge differences recently in a three-hour application versus overnight.  If you do keep mehndi overnight, just make sure to cover it and make sure that the henna is relatively dry before you go to sleep.  Otherwise, it will smush and get yucky.

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Updated September 18, 2002 by Rupal Pinto
Photographs by Rupal Pinto, pictured are a foot design, 1997; Back design, 1998.
Unless otherwise indicated, all text and images Copyright Rupal Pinto 1997-2002.  All Rights Reserved.