From Tolkien Gateway
This article is about the food. For the journal of Unquendor, see Lembas.
John Howe - Lembas.jpg
"Lembas" by John Howe
Other nameswaybread
GalleryImages of Lembas

Lembas (W. waybread) was a special food made by the Elves.

History[edit | edit source]

The origin and making of lembas is only known by the short text Of Lembas written by Pengolodh. Lembas was made first by Yavanna from special corn that grew in Aman, and Oromë gave it to the Elves for the purpose of the Great Journey. For this reason, it was an Elven custom that only women should make lembas; they were called Yavannildi who knew the secret of its recipe from Oromë.[1] Also, the custom mandated that only an Elven Queen should keep and distribute the lembas; for this reason she was called also massánië or besain.[2]

The Light of Valinor by Elena Kukanova

Only on rare occasions was it given to non-Elves, because it was believed that mortals who ate it would become weary of their mortality and would desire to live among the Elves.[2]

The corn was an enduring plant that needed but a little sunlight to ripen and could be sown at any season and then sprouted and grew swiftly. Yet it was harmed by north winds, while Morgoth dwelt there. The Eldar grew it in guarded lands and sunlit glades. The ears were harvested without scythe or sickle but each one was gathered by hand, and the white stalks were drawn from the earth and used to weave baskets in which the grain was stored.[2]

Melian, as the queen of Doriath, was one who held the recipe from Yavanna. By giving lembas to Beleg for Túrin,[3] Melian showed him great favour because it had never before been given to Men and seldom was again. Later it was passed to Galadriel and other Elves.

When ships had been sent forth, at the behest of Turgon, towards the West, its mariners carried a sealed wallet with waybread for their voyage. Voronwë, after surviving the wreck, shared it with Tuor throughout their journey to Gondolin.[4]

Dúnedain, inspired by the elves, made a similar kind of waybread (although it was not true lembas), that they carried on long journeys. So each of Isildur's soldiers on their way north from the War of the Last Alliance "carried in a sealed wallet on his belt a small phial of cordial and wafers of a waybread that would sustain life in him for many days".[5]

The Galadhrim had a large store of lembas in Lothlórien. Galadriel gave some of it to the Fellowship of the Ring upon their departure.[6] Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee subsisted on it through the majority of their journey from there into Mordor.

The tradition of farming the Western Corn and the making of waybread was lost for ever in Middle-earth after the departure of Galadriel and the death of Arwen.[1]

Description[edit | edit source]

The cakes were very nutritious, stayed fresh for months when wrapped in leaves, and were used for sustenance on long journeys. Lembas had a brownish colour on the outside and a cream colour on the inside.

According to Gimli, it was a food of the same kind as Cram, although one of the Elves of Lothlórien commented that it was more pleasant, and more strengthening than any food made by Men.[6]

Like other products of the Elves, it was offensive to evil creatures; Gollum refused outright to eat of it.[7] When Frodo was captured by Orcs in Mordor, the Orcs hated the look of the lembas even more than Gollum had.[8]

Etymology[edit | edit source]

Lembas is Sindarin and derived from Old Sindarin lenn-mbass which means "journey-bread". As a rough translation of this term it was also often called "waybread".[2] This word came in turn from Primitive Elvish le(n)dembassē, literally meaning "bread taken on leaving home (for a long journey)", which in Quenya was lerembas.[9] However, the proper Quenya term for lembas was coimas which means "life-bread".[2]

Inspiration[edit | edit source]

Lembas has been compared with the Eucharist, even as being the most explicit symbol of Christianity in The Lord of the Rings.[10] Tolkien himself mentions that the lembas is one of the few details from which it can be deduced he is a Catholic writer.[11] He acknowledged the religious significance of lembas in a letter about a proposal for a film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. (The proposal called lembas a 'food concentrate', which Tolkien objected to as "scientification".)[12] Like "lembas," "viaticum," a term for the Eucharist, means "provision for a journey."

The name "waybread" resembles in a way the Old English name for the herb plantain, which was wegbrade.[13]

Portrayal in adaptations[edit | edit source]

2001-03: The Lord of the Rings (film series):

The redundant term "lembas bread" is occasionally used as the gift of lembas at Lothlórien is not included in the theatrical release of The Fellowship of the Ring. The term "lembas bread" was probably chosen in order to immediately identify the substance to filmgoers at the beginning of The Two Towers.

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, "Farewell to Lórien (scene)"


  1. 1.0 1.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Carl F. Hostetter (ed.), The Nature of Middle-earth, "Part Three. The World, its Lands, and its Inhabitants: IV. The Making of Lembas", "Text 2", p. 296
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "XV. Of Lembas", pp. 403-404
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Túrin Turambar"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields"
  6. 6.0 6.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Farewell to Lórien"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Passage of the Marshes"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Tower of Cirith Ungol"
  9. 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. 51-52
  10. Bradley J. Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth, "Chapter 3: The Created Order", p. 63
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 213, (dated 25 October 1958), p. 288
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 210, (undated, written June 1958), pp. 274-275
  13. "Tolkien Society Anglo-Saxon Study Pack 2" dated 22 April 2006, The Tolkien Society (accessed 22 April 2024)