The shrub Lawsonia inermis has recently started blooming in the dye plants plot, close to the Botanical Garden's office building. It has white flowers and small roundish ball-shaped capsule fruits. The plant is better known as henna, whose dried ground leaves are used for dyeing hair and skin. It contains a compound called lawsone that permanently attaches to the keratin in our skin, hair, and fingernails, and dyes it a reddish-brown shade. Henna has also been used for dyeing wool, silk, and leather. The plant has been in use since the ancient Egyptian period (about 6000 years ago) and is still important nowadays, both in traditional religious ceremonies and weddings, as well as for the modern cosmetic industry.
Another plant that has been used for similar purposes is Senna italica. “Blond Henna” or “Natural Henna”, which gives the treated hair an extra shine and dyes it a light yellow, is extracted from its leaves. Senna italica distribution is in north-east Africa, and Israel is located at the edge of its distribution range - it grows in the south of Israel, in the desert wadis of the Arava valley and Eilat, and can be found in the "harsh desert" plot in our Garden.
Dyer's Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) is another species that is used for similar purposes. The Latin genus name is derived from a misspelling of the Arabic word “Al-Henna”. The plant’s roots are red and its extracted dye can be dissolved in either oil or alcohol. It has been used, and in some cases still is, in cosmetic products for coloring face and body, as a coloring agent in timber varnish, and as food coloring. The plant inhabits stabilized sandy and loamy soils of the Israeli coastal plain, and can be found in the kurkar (calcareous sandstone) habitat plot in the Garden.