Tolkien Gateway


The name Athelas refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see Athelas (disambiguation).
John Howe - Athelas.jpg
"Athelas" by John Howe
Other namesKingsfoil, asëa aranion
LocationNúmenor and the Westlands, especially where Dúnedain had passed
Notable forHealing properties against the Black Breath
GalleryImages of Athelas

Athelas, also known as Kingsfoil or asëa aranion ("Beneficial of Kings"), was a sweet-smelling herb with healing powers, such as curing wounds, poison and counteracting evil influence such as the Black Breath.


[edit] History

During the First Age athelas was perhaps growing in Beleriand. Huan had found athelas to heal Beren of his wounds.[1]

Athelas most notably grew on the island of Númenor and was brought to Middle-earth by Númenóreans.[2] It grew sparsely in the North and only in places where the Men of Westernesse had camped or lived, but by the end of the Third Age only the Rangers of the North retained the knowledge of its healing properties.

In Gondor (where it was known as Kingsfoil) its healing virtues were unknown and its leaves were esteemed only for their refreshing scent but it was especially powerful in the hands of the king, perhaps because of the Elvish heritage of the royal house.[3]

It was used by Aragorn on several occasions: healing Frodo from the Morgul wound,[2] tend the wounds of Frodo and Sam after the exit from Moria,[4] and, secretly entering Minas Tirith upon his return to Gondor, to heal those touched by the Black Breath, an act that enhanced his reputation and strengthened his claim to the crown.[3]

[edit] Properties and Effects

Athelas, when dried and crushed in hot water, is refreshing, clears, calms[2] the minds and strengthens[4] those smelling the scent. It also has a particular scent that is particular to individual who smells the herb:

  • Faramir's scent is of "dewy mornings of unshadowed sun... [in which] Spring is itself but a fleeting memory"[3]
  • Ioreth smells "roses of Imloth Melui" of her childhood[3]
  • Éowyn smells no scent as if the air was clean, fresh and had never "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."[3]
  • Merry's smell is that of "orchards, and of heather in the sunshine full of bees"[3]

[edit] Etymology

Athelas is a Sindarin word, consisting of athae + lass.[5]

Kingsfoil has the Old French element foil, "leaf" as seen in cinquefoil.[6]

[edit] Other versions of the legendarium

Athelas doesn't appear in the published Silmarillion or in the tales of the First Age in general; however in the early Lay of Leithian it was used by Huan and Lúthien to heal wounded Beren.[1] It contradicts the information from The Lord of the Rings of it being brought to Middle-earth by Númenóreans,[2] so its history was either revised by Tolkien, or athelas grew in Beleriand before it was destroyed, and then brought back to Middle-earth by Númenóreans in the Second Age.

[edit] Appearances outside the legendarium

Kingsfoil is also mentioned in Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, as one of the herbs in the witch of Gont's hut.[7]

Athelas is also mentioned in the game Quest for Glory.

[edit] See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lays of Beleriand, "III. The Lay of Leithian: Canto X (The attack by Celegorm and Curufin)"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Flight to the Ford"
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Houses of Healing"
  4. 4.0 4.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Lothlórien"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), p. 49
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings" in Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, p. 781
  7. "Athelas", dated 21 January 2001, at (accessed 13 November 2011)