|"Athelas" by John Howe|
|Other names||Kingsfoil (W), asëa aranion (Q)|
|Location||Númenor and the Westlands, especially where Dúnedain had passed|
|Notable for||Healing properties against the Black Breath|
|Gallery||Images of Athelas|
Athelas, also known as Kingsfoil or asëa aranion, was a sweet-smelling herb with healing properties, such as curing wounds, poison and counteracting evil influence such as the Black Breath.
Athelas most notably grew on the island of Númenor and was brought to Middle-earth by the Númenóreans. It grew sparsely in the North and only in places where the Men of Westernesse had camped or lived. 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 Kings of Gondor, perhaps because of the Elvish heritage of the royal house.
It was used by Aragorn on several occasions: healing Frodo from the Morgul wound, tending the wounds of Frodo and Sam after the exit from Moria, 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.
Properties and Effects
Athelas, when dried and crushed in hot water, is refreshing. It clears and calms the minds of those who smell it. Athelas also strengthens those smelling the scent. It has a particular scent that is either unique to the individual who smells the herb or influenced by the recipient of the herb's effects:
- Faramir's scent is of "dewy mornings of unshadowed sun... [in which] Spring is itself but a fleeting memory."
- Ioreth smells the "roses of Imloth Melui" from her childhood.
- 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."
- Merry's smell is that of "orchards, and of heather in the sunshine full of bees."
The Quenya cognate is asëa aranion ("asëa of the Kings"). It has been suggested that the whole name could mean "Beneficial (leaf) of Kings". The rejected form asea aranaite was used in a manuscript version of The Lord of the Rings.
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 the wounded Beren. This contradicts the information from The Lord of the Rings of it being brought to Middle-earth by Númenóreans, 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.
Portrayal in adaptations
- Athelas appears as a plant used by the Elf Tauriel to heal the Dwarf, Kili, of a poisonous wound inflicted by an Orc's arrow.
In other media
Athelas is also mentioned in the game Quest for Glory.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lays of Beleriand, "III. The Lay of Leithian: Canto X (The attack by Celegorm and Curufin)"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Flight to the Ford"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Houses of Healing"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Lothlórien"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings: Eldarin Roots and Stems", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), pp. 49-100
- Quettaparma Quenyallo at Ardalambion (accessed 14 May 2011)
- Plants & Trees (cf. Athelas) at The Thain's Book (accessed 14 May 2011)
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Ring, "Part Three: Minas Tirith", "XI. The Houses of Healing", p. 394
- 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
- "Athelas", dated 21 January 2001, at Forum.BarrowDowns.com (accessed 13 November 2011)