An uplifting experience: Henna crowns for cancer patients are a creative alternative to wigs, hats or scarves

WINCHESTER – City resident Jessi Edwards is known to many as the “Zen Mama.” A mother of three, Edwards is an internationally certified henna artist, yoga instructor and painter who does her best to stay calm and zen.

WINCHESTER – City resident Jessi Edwards is known to many as the “Zen Mama.” A mother of three, Edwards is a certified henna artist, yoga instructor and painter who does her best to stay calm and zen.

“A few years (ag0), for my birthday, I experienced henna for the first time and immediately fell in love,” Edwards said. “But I wanted to use it for more than just recreational purposes. I wanted to make a difference.”

After becoming certified as a henna artist, Edwards decided to use her newly acquired talent to help woman undergoing chemotherapy cope with the loss of their hair.

“For cancer patients, whether they’re male or female, chemotherapy is a very difficult journey many have to take,” she said. “It only adds to the emotional stress.”

So instead of wigs, hats or scarves, she said henna crowns can create an uplifting experience for all involved.

“Henna can be used for spiritual or emotional healing purposes,” Edwards said.

“Getting a really beautiful henna design on your head isn’t going to help with any medical issue,” she said. “However, a lot of times when I do these designs, especially for women, our hair is such a large part of our identity that, whether its long, short, curly or straight, for most people the loss of their hair is devastating. These crowns are a way for them to cope with the loss of their hair.”

Henna painting has been practiced around the world for centuries, Edwards noted. It’s most commonly seen in India, Africa and the Middle East where the plant is believed to bring love, good fortune and protection against evil.

Originating from the plant lawsonia inermis, henna is created by crushing the leaves into a paste. It is then applied to the skin, where it leaves a stain, she explained. The stain typically ranges in color from burnt orange to a deep brown.

“But it should never be black,” Edwards said. “There is no such thing as black henna. There is a chemical compound called PPD that people add to their henna. People don’t know the dangers of it.”

She said PPD is cheaper and typically stains the skin for two to three months. “It can cause liver damage, chemical burns and permanent scarring. It’s incredibly dangerous.”

Each crown design is specific to the client. They feature feminine floral patterns, butterflies, hearts, religious symbols and messages of hope drawn by Edwards. She never creates the same design twice. Inspiration for her designs comes from fellow henna designers and everyday life.

Typically Edwards spends four to six hours with each client. She notes for many of the women she works with that it’s an opportunity for them to open up about their feelings, fears, hopes and dreams.

“It’s not always about the henna,” she said. “It’s about hearing their stories; their journey. Or that her husband wouldn’t take out the trash that night.”

Edwards also works with women who have suffered miscarriages, are infertile or are pregnant.

“I once worked with a women who was a wiccan,” she said. “She came in with a very specific design to symbolize her fertility. I placed my hands on her belly and we said a prayer together. For her, it was a really loving and spiritual experience.”

Edwards noted three months later her client became pregnant. “I’m not a miracle worker, but I do believe henna has a spiritual power.”

As an artist, Edwards said she was intrigued by the practice of henna and decided to formally educate herself.

“It’s not as easy as people think,” she said. “I started learning as much as I could. Doing research. Learning what was safe and not safe.”

To complete her education, Edwards took a comprehensive final exam to earn her certificate. She also had to submit her henna recipe for board approval along with pictures of her most recent work.

Henna has not been proven as a medical cure for any aliment or disease. But Edwards said she believes that henna has benefits and healing properties that aid in the spiritual process.

Correction: This story has been corrected to show that Jessi Edwards’ client became pregnant three months after her original henna design, with a due date a year later.