HASA Resources

Things of Middle-earth

athelas

Type: Plants

Other Names:
athelas (Sindarin)
kingsfoil (Westron)
asëa aranion (Quenya)

Description:

A healing herb whose leaf is known for its refreshing fragrance and powers to cleanse wounds and to heal the Black Shadow; imported from Númenor to Middle-earth, it grows only where Dúnedain once dwelled.
From the pouch at his belt [Aragorn] drew out the long leaves of a plant.

'These leaves,' he said, 'I have walked far to find; for this plant does not grow in the bare hills; but in the thickets away south of the Road I found it in the dark by the scent of its leaves.' He crushed a leaf in his fingers, and it gave out a sweet and pungent fragrance. 'It is fortunate that I could find it, for it is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle-earth. Athelas they named it, and it grows now sparsely...; and it is not known in the North, except to some of those who wander in the Wild. It has great virtues, but over such a wound as this its healing powers may be small.'

He threw the leaves into boiling water and bathed Frodo's shoulder. The fragrance of the steam was refreshing, and those that were unhurt felt their minds calmed and cleared. The herb had... some power over the wound, for Frodo felt the pain and also the sense of frozen cold lessen in his side; but the life did not return to his arm, and he could not raise or use his hand....

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 12, Flight to the Ford

Sam's wound was not deep, but it looked ugly, and Aragorn's face was grave as he examined it. After a moment he looked up with relief....

'The cut is not poisoned, as the wounds of orc-blades too often are.'....

He opened his pouch and drew out some withered leaves. 'They are dry and some of their virtue has gone, he said, but here I have still some of the leaves of athelas that I gathered near Weathertop. Crush one in the water, and wash the wound clean, and I will bind it."

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 6, Lothlórien

'Have you athelas?'

'I do not know..., lord,' she answered, 'at least not by that name. I will go and ask of the herb-master; he knows all the old names.'

'It is also called kingsfoil,' said Aragorn; 'and maybe you know it by that name, for so the country-folk call it....'

'Oh that!' said Ioreth.... 'No, we have none.... Why, I have never heard that it had any great virtue; and indeed I have often said to my sisters when we came upon it growing in the woods: "kingsfoil" I said, "'tis a strange name, and I wonder why 'tis called so; for if I were a king, I would have plants more bright in my garden". Still it smells sweet when bruised, does it not? If sweet is the right word: wholesome, maybe, is nearer.'

'Wholesome verily,' said Aragorn. 'And now, dame... get me kingsfoil, if there is a leaf in the City.'

'And if not,' said Gandalf, 'I will ride to Lossarnach with Ioreth behind me, and she shall take me to the woods, but not to her sisters.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

'Your lordship asked for kingsfoil, as the rustics name it,' [the herb-master] said; or athelas in the noble tongue, or to those who know somewhat of the Valinorean...'

'I do so,' said Aragorn, 'and I care not whether you say now asëa aranion or kingsfoil, so long as you have some.'

'Your pardon lord!' said the man.... 'But... we do not keep this thing in the Houses of Healing.... For it has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness. Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days which women such as our good Ioreth still repeat without understanding.
When the black breath blows
and death's shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!
... Its meaning I leave to your judgement, if indeed it has any. But old folk still use an infusion of the herb for headaches.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

And at last Bergil came running in, and he bore six leaves in a cloth. 'It is kingsfoil, Sir,' he said; 'but not fresh, I fear. It must have been culled two weeks ago at the least. I hope it will serve, Sir?'....

But Aragorn smiled. 'It will serve,' he said.... 'Stay and be comforted!' Then taking two leaves, he laid them on his hands and breathed on them, and then he crushed them, and straightway a living freshness filled the room, as if the air itself awoke and tingled, sparkling with joy. And then he cast the leaves into the bowls of steaming water..., and at once all hearts were lightened. For the fragrance that came to each was like a memory of dewy mornings of unshadowed sun in some land of which the fair world in Spring is itself but a fleeting memory. But Aragorn stood up as one refreshed, and his eyes smiled as he held a bowl before Faramir's dreaming face.

'Well now! Who would have believed it?' said Ioreth.... 'The weed is better than I thought. It reminds me of the roses of Imloth Melui when I was a lass, and no king could ask for better.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

Then, whether Aragorn had indeed some forgotten power of Westernesse, or whether it was but his words of the Lady Éowyn that wrought on them, as the sweet influence of the herb stole about the chamber it seemed to those who stood by that a keen wind blew through the window, and it bore no scent, but was an air wholly fresh and clean and young, as if it had not before been breathed by any living thing and came new-made from snowy mountains high beneath a dome of stars, or from shores of silver far away washed by seas of foam.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

And when the fragrance of athelas stole through the room, like the scent of orchards, and of heather in the sunshine full of bees, suddenly Merry awoke, and he said:

'I am hungry. What is the time?'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

Contributors:
Moriel 14May03
Quotes added by Lyllyn 17May03
Loquacious 3Jan04
Elena Tiriel 14Mar08

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