The ABCs of: Henna art in Morocco

March 20, 2019

The sights, sounds, and scents of Morocco are truly thrilling, from the heart of the country’s bustling medinas to the historic towns and communities on their outskirts. Among the many memorable experiences to be had in the breathtaking North African country is a Henna session, during which an artist uses a rich-hued paste to draw an intricate, temporary tattoo on your skin. But what is henna — and how has it traditionally been used in Morocco? Read on for more info.


The trademark red hue of henna paste comes from the leaves of the henna plant. The plant’s dyes can’t be transferred until its leaves are broken — so touching a fully intact henna leaf won’t dye your fingers. Rather, henna leaves must be ground into a fine powder, then mixed with water to become the paste that is used to colour skin.

Berbers to brides

In Morocco and several other countries — including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and India — henna is popular among brides. Having henna tattoos applied before a wedding ceremony is a popular (and ancient) custom. In Morocco, henna is the name of the paste; naqsh is the name of the designs. For Moroccan weddings, the groom is sometimes also painted with henna tattoos. But the designs are used outside of weddings as well. In Morocco, henna use originates with the country’s indigenous Berber community, amongst whom it has been used for centuries to commemorate significant events such as births, deaths, and battle victories.

Colour is key

True henna will have a red or reddish-brown hue, and can be used to colour skin, hair, or even fabric for clothing. In Morocco, henna is also used to dye wool and leather. If you see black henna being offered, you should decline: black henna is not true henna, and can contain ingredients that might bother your skin.


Learn about henna — get a design, if you like! — and more through a trip with [National Geographic Family Journeys with G Adventures], a new line of trips for adventure-loving families in search of a meaningful way to discover the world together. With itineraries inspired by National Geographic's expertise in photography and storytelling, wildlife, culture, history, and geography, these trips let families connect with the world and each other.

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