- "Lembas, Elvish waybread. One small bite is enough to fill the stomach of a grown man."
- ― Legolas, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Lembas, also called coimas, translated as waybread in the Common Speech, is a special food made by the Elves. The cakes are very nutritious, stay fresh for months when wrapped in leaves, and are used for sustenance on long journeys. Lembas is a brownish colour on the outside and a cream colour on the inside.
Lembas was made first by Yavanna from special corn that grew in Aman, and Oromë gave it to the Elves of the Great Journey. For this reason, it was an Elven custom that only women should make lembas; they were called Yavannildi (or by the Sindar the Ivonwin) who knew the secret of its recipe. Also, the custom requested that only an Elven Queen should keep and distribute the lembas, for this reason she was called also massánië or besain. Like other products of the Elves, it is offensive to evil creatures; Gollum refused outright to eat of it.
Only on rare occasions is it given to non-Elves, because it was believed that mortals who ate it would become wary of their mortality and would desire to live among the Elves.
Melian, as the queen of Doriath, was one who held this recipe from Yavanna. By giving lembas to Beleg for Túrin, she showed great favor because never before lembas was given to a Man and seldom it was again. Later it was passed to Galadriel and other Elves.
Galadriel gave a large store of it to the Fellowship of the Ring upon their departure from Lothlórien. One of the elves comments that it is more strengthening than any food by Men, and it is more pleasant than Cram.. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee subsist on it through the majority of their journey from there into Mordor.
Tolkien most likely based lembas on bread known as hard tack that was used during long sea voyages and military campaigns as a primary foodstuff. It was little more than flour and water which had been baked hard and would keep for months as long as it was kept dry.
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa wrote in his book Libri tres de occulta philosophia (Book 3, Chapter 13) of a herb from Scythia that allowed people to go for twelve days afterward without any need for food or water. It is also possible that Tolkien based lembas on this description in Agrippa's writings.
Portrayal in Adaptations
In The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy, the term "lembas bread" is occasionally used. This is incorrect usage; but because the gift of lembas at Lothlórien is not included in the theatrical release of The Fellowship of the Ring, the redundant term "lembas bread" was probably chosen in order to immediately identify the substance to filmgoers at the beginning of The Two Towers.