Henna leaf (Lawsonia inermis), commonly known as Mehndi is cultivated throughout India and is a very popular natural dye to color hand and hair. It is an integral part of indigenous culture, and is also known for its medicinal value. The effect of 200 and 400 mg/kg body weight of 80% ethanolic extract of the fresh leaves of Lawsonia inermis were examined on drug metabolizing phase-I and phase-II enzymes, antioxidant enzymes, glutathione content, lactate dehydrogenase and lipid peroxidation in the liver of 7 weeks old Swiss albino mice. Also anticarcinogenic potential of Henna leaf extract was studied adopting the protocol of benzo(a)pyrene induced forestomach and 7,12 dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA)-initiated and croton oil-promoted skin papillomagenesis. Our primary findings reveal the 'duel-acting' nature of henna leaf as deduced from its potential to induce only the phase-II enzyme activity, associated mainly with carcinogen detoxification in liver of mice and inhibit the phase I enzyme activities. The hepatic glutathione S-transferase and DT-diaphorase specific activities were elevated above basal (p < 0.005) level by Lawsonia inermis extract treatment. With reference to antioxidant enzymes the investigated doses were effective in increasing the hepatic glutathione reductase (GR), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase activities significantly (from p < 0.05 to p < 0.005) at both the dose levels. Reduced glutathione (GSH) measured as non-protein sulphydryl was found to be significantly elevated in liver (p < 0.005) and in all the extrahepatic organs studied (from p < 0.05 to p < 0.005). Among the extrahepatic organs examined (forestomach, kidney and lung) glutathione S-transferase and DT-diaphorase level were increased in a dose independent manner (from p < 0.05 to p < 0.005). Chemopreventive response was measured by the average number of papillomas per mouse (tumor burden) as well as percentage of tumor bearing animals and tumor multiplicity. There was a significant inhibition of tumor burden in both the tumor model systems studied (from p < 0.01 to p < 0.001). Tumor incidence was also reduced by both the doses used in our experiment in both the model systems.