Ask the hippie: Henna

I haven’t done an “Ask the Hippie” in ages, but I’ve gotten several questions about henna lately.

Q. What is henna, and how do you use it?

A. Henna is an exotic plant whose leaves contain a naturally occurring red dye that I’ve used on my hair for the better end of 20 years, because it produces a consistently rich, natural-looking color, doesn’t contain any scary chemicals, and is an excellent conditioner.

Its only drawback is that it’s more labor-intensive than other methods, especially if you don’t have access to commercial salon equipment. If you can find a stylist willing to work with henna, praise God and tip well. If you can’t, here’s a quick DIY lesson:

1. Assemble your ingredients.

At a minimum, you need henna, distilled water, and a non-reactive bowl and spoon. NEVER let henna come into contact with metal, as this can turn it green.

2. Put the henna in your non-reactive mixing bowl.

powdered henna
I use a big Pyrex measuring cup because it can handle boiling liquids and won’t stain.

3. Boil a cup of distilled water, red wine or coffee.

I like to use roughly equal parts red wine and coffee. Whatever you use, make sure it’s boiling when you add it to the henna.

4. Mix it up. I start with a cup of red wine, mix to a thick paste, then add coffee to thin it down to a workable consistency.

Mixed henna
If you use coffee, make it with distilled water. Henna and chlorine do not play well together.

5. Use Vaseline to prevent stains.

Apply to your ears, upper forehead, etc.

6. Guard your silver.

Gray streak
I love my gray streak too much to dye it, so before I apply henna, I coat my streak with Vaseline and mask it off with plastic wrap.

7. Put on gloves.

Medical-type gloves are awesome for this.

8. Make sure your hair is clean, dry and free of styling products. When the henna is cool enough to handle, begin applying it.

Start with the roots and work your way out.

9. Keep applying.

All applied
If you’re just touching up roots, apply most of the henna to the new growth, then coat a few random sections of hair with the rest so the new and old colors will blend nicely. Freshen up the overall color every few months.

10. Cover to hold in heat.

A cheap shower cap works well. If your glasses have metal frames, leave them off.

11. Heat-set.

Heat-set for at least 45 minutes. I put the dryer on the highest setting. You can use a handheld dryer, but a tabletop bonnet dryer (about $60) works better and leaves your hands free to play Angry Birds while you wait.

12. Rinse. This is the worst part, because the henna thickens as it heats. Under running water, comb out the tangles, starting at the ends and literally inching your way up. Don’t worry about getting all the henna out at this point; just detangle. Work in plenty of conditioner, rinse, and repeat until the grit is gone. Conditioner and a comb will save you a good 15 minutes if your hair is long and/or thick.

The finished product
The finished product.

Yes, it really turns out that shiny.


When the snow flies …

I have been trying to find either sheet music or guitar chords for “The Blizzard” for the better end of a year. I finally tracked down the sheet music, but the only way to get it was by buying a now-out-of-print box set that included a CD (full of songs I already have), a memoir (full of stories I’m pretty sure I’ve already heard) and a fold-out poster thingy that contained the sheet music to umpteen songs on a single ginormous sheet. Wildly impractical, and when you find a copy, it’s being sold as a collectible for, like, $60 or something.

Marketing fail.

I finally learned how to play piano by chord and instinct rather than note last winter, so I sat down last week and applied that skill to “The Blizzard.”

It was kind of a roundabout process, but I eventually got there, and the end result was my first-ever contribution to, which is pretty much the greatest website since

I am ridiculously pleased with myself for pulling this off.

The timing was pretty smooth, too: I’ve been kind of chewing on this song for a while, but it didn’t really come together until the other night, and then it took a couple of days for me to get a hand free to write it down, and another day or two for the moderators at UG to approve it.

The roads turned to ice and it started to snow at just about the same time the chords went online.

I can’t decide whether that was God’s little way of creating ambience or just karma paying me back for swiping a song out of thin air. (If it was the latter, somebody probably needs to explain the concept of “fair use” to the Karma Fairy.)