Athelas

by Eonwe-(Valar)
April 2002
Plants

    A healing herb from Numenor, it has a sweet and pungent fragrance.  In Middle-Earth, athelas is only found near the Numenorean/Dunedain encampments and dwellings of old.  The fragrance of this herb is refreshing, and clears the minds of those within its scent.
    The Akallabeth speaks of the Eldar bringing gifts, including “herbs of great virtue,” from Aman to the new continent/kingdom of Numenor.  Undoubtedly, athelas was among these gifts, and from its descriptions, very likely came from the gardens of Lorien, where those who dwelt in the Blessed Land went for rest.
    It is said in legend that the hands of the King are the hands of a healer.  Indeed, Aragorn, Chieftain of the Dunedain of Arnor and later King of the Reunited Kingdom, used this plant several times to heal wounds during the War of the Ring.  The first time was to heal the Morgul-wound Frodo had received at Weathertop.  The next time was on Sam’s and Frodo’s wounds after they left Moria.  He also used it to cure Faramir, Eowyn, and Merry of the Black Breath in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith.
    Athelas is also known as kingsfoil by the “rustics” (so called by the herbmaster of Minas Tirith), asëa aranion in the Valinorean, and once called “the weed” by Ioreth, a healer of Minas Tirith.
    This poem is still remembered by some (Return of the King, pg 172):

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!

    The usual preparation of athelas for healing use is to boil water.  The leaves are then bruised or broken and placed into the water to steep.  The wound is then bathed with the water, but the scent refreshes all standing near.

In Histories of Middle-earth (HoME):
    In the Lays of Beleriand, it says that Huan brought a leaf of athelas to Luthien to heal a wound given to Beren by Celegorm and Curufin.  It also offers a description of the plant.
“Then Huan came and bore a leaf,
of all the herbs of healing chief,
  that evergreen in woodland glade
there grew with broad and hoary blade.”
  (pg 319, lines 3117-31210)

    In The Return of the Shadow, it is not said that it came from Numenor, only that it is “a healing plant, known only to the Elves, and to some of those who walk in the wild.”
    In The Treason of Isengard, Trotter (early version of Strider) lays an athelas leaf directly onto Sam’s wound.
    In The War of the Ring, Trotter used athelas to tend to a wounded shoulder that Snowmane (Theoden’s horse) received at Helm’s Deep.

    An early form of the name asëa aranion was asëa aranaite.

References:
    The Fellowship of the Ring
    The Return of the King
    The Silmarillion
    The Lays of Beleriand, volume 3 of the History of Middle-Earth
    The Return of the Shadow, volume 6 of the History of Middle-Earth
    The Treason of Isengard, volume 7 of the History of Middle-Earth
    The War of the Ring, volume 8 of the History of Middle-Earth
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