Athelas: 1. Athelas

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1. Athelas

Athelas (Kingsfoil, asëa aranion)


"Asëa aranion" is mentioned as the Quenyan name of athelas. "Asëa" is a substantive form of a lost element with the meaning of "helpful, kind, beneficial", "aranion" appears to be the genitive plural of "aran" (= king). The Noldorin root is again a lost element, *ATHAYA (= helpful, kindly, beneficial), in Middle-earth the influence of the Sindarin converted it to athe + las (= leaf). It is possible that Tolkien developed the word from the Anglo-Saxon word "æðele", which means "noble, royal", but there are no documents to prove this.


Athelas is a long-leafed herb that grows in thickets and woods. Its appearance is unremarkable. The blossoms are probably small and not colourful. The leaves have a sweet and pungent smell that reminds of roses and orchards and heather. The fragrance is so strong that it can be found by its scent alone. The plant is native to Númenor and was introduced into Middle-earth by the Men of the West. In the Third Age athelas is scarce in the North of Middle-earth. It can only be found there in areas where the Númenoreans had settlements or camp sites in the past. In the South of Middle-earth, namely in Gondor, it is still quite common. In the Third Age the knowledge of athelas is still retained in traditional Gondorian herblore, though it is no longer in use in the "modern medicine" as it is practiced in the Houses of Healing.


Athelas is most famous for its use against the Black Breath. As a therapy of life-threatening cases the treatment with athelas has to be combined with the healing powers of the line of the Númenorean kings. But athelas is also used as a painkiller and as a means to prevent infection. In Gondor it is known as a remedy for headache and depression. It was probably also used to freshen the air in closed rooms. Its effects are calming, refreshing, strengthening and clearing the mind.

The leaves of athelas (either dried or fresh) can be crushed and the resulting fragrance can then be inhaled. Another method of preparation is to boil the leaves in water and to inhale the steam. The water in which the leaves have been steeped can be used externally to bathe wounds and bruises. It is also effective on poisoned wounds. It can also be prepared as an infusion and can be drunken as a tisane. The dried leaves lose some of their effectiveness but can still be used for up to three months after they have been gathered. The herb is very strong and should be used sparingly. One or two leaves per pot are sufficient.


A/N: Sources for the etymology and use of athelas

"From the pouch at his belt he drew out the long leaves of a plant. 'These leaves,' he said, 'I have walked far to find; for this plant does not grow in the bare hills; but in the thickets away south of the Road I found it in the dark by the scent of its leaves.' He crushed a leaf in his fingers, and it gave out a sweet and pungent fragrance. 'It is fortunate that I could find it, for it is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle-earth. 'Athelas' they named it, and it grows now sparsely and only near places where they dwelt or camped of old; and it is not known in the North, except to some of those who wander in the Wild. It has great virtues, but over such a
wound as this its healing powers may be small.'
He threw the leaves into boiling water and bathed Frodo's shoulder. The fragrance of the steam was refreshing, and those that were unhurt felt their minds calmed and cleared. The herb had also some power over the wound, for Frodo felt the pain and also the sense of frozen cold lessen in his side; but the life did not return to his arm, and he could not raise or use his hand."
(The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 261)

"'Good luck, Sam! ' he said. 'Many have received worse than this in payment for the slaying of their first orc. The cut is not poisoned, as the wounds of orc-blades too often are. It should heal well when I have tended it. Bathe it when Gimli has heated water.'
He opened his pouch and drew out some withered leaves. `They are dry and some of their virtue has gone, he said, but here I have still some of the leaves of 'athelas' that I gathered near Weathertop. Crush one in the water, and wash the wound clean, and I will bind it."
(The Fellowship of the Ring, p.440)

"…where he had been hurled against the wall. While the others set the food ready. Aragorn bathed the hurts with water in which the athelas was steeped. Thepungent fragrance filled the dell, and all those who stooped over the steaming water felt refreshed and strengthened. Soon Frodo felt the pain leave him, and his breath grew easy: though he was stiff and sore to the touch for many days. Aragorn bound some soft pads of cloth at his side."
(The Fellowship of the Ring, p.441)

"'I will judge that when I see,' said Aragorn. 'One thing also is short time for speech. Have you
'I do not know, I am sure, lord,' she answered, 'at least not by that name. I will go and ask of the
herb-master; he knows all the old names.'
'It is also called 'kingsfoil',' said Aragorn; 'and maybe you know it by that name, for so the country-folk call it in these latter days.'
'Oh that!' said Ioreth. 'Well, if your lordship had named it at first I could have told you. No, we have none of it, I am sure. Why, I have never heard that it had any great virtue; and indeed I have often said to my sisters when we came upon it growing in the woods: "kingsfoil" I said, " 'tis a strange name, and I wonder why 'tis called so; for if I were a king, I would have plants more bright in my garden". Still itsmells sweet when bruised, does it not? If sweet is the right word: wholesome, maybe, is nearer.'
'Wholesome verily,' said Aragorn. 'And now, dame, if you love the Lord Faramir, run as quick as
your tongue and get me kingsfoil, if there is a leaf in the City.'"
(The Return of the King, p.158f)

"Thereupon the herb-master entered. 'Your lordship asked for kingsfoil, as the rustics name it, he
said; or 'athelas' in the noble tongue, or to those who know somewhat of the Valinorean. . .'
'I do so,' said Aragorn, 'and I care not whether you say now 'asëa aranion' or 'kingsfoil', so long as you have some.'
'Your pardon lord!' said the man. 'I see you are a lore-master, not merely a captain of war. But alas! sir, we do not keep this thing in the Houses of Healing, where only the gravely hurt or sick are tended. For it has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness. Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days which women such as our good Ioreth still repeat without understanding.

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!

It is but a doggrel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives. Its meaning I leave to your
judgement, if indeed it has any. But old folk still use an infusion of the herb for headaches. '"
(The Return of the King, p. 160)

"And at last Bergil came running in, and he bore six leaves in a cloth. 'It is kingsfoil, Sir,' he said; 'but not fresh, I fear. It must have been culled two weeks ago at the least."
(The Return of the King, p. 161)

"Then taking two leaves, he laid them on his hands and breathed on them, and then he crushed them, and straightway a living freshness filled the room, as if the air itself awoke and tingled, sparkling with joy. And then he cast the leaves into the bowls of steaming water that were brought to him, and at once all hearts were lightened. For the fragrance that came to each was like a memory of dewy mornings of unshadowed sun in some land of which the fair world in Spring is itself but a fleeting memory. But Aragorn stood up as one refreshed, and his eyes smiled as he held a bowl before Faramir's dreaming face.
'Well now! Who would have believed it?' said Ioreth to a woman that stood beside her. 'The weed is better than I thought. It reminds me of the roses of Imloth Melui when I was a lass, and no king could ask for better.'"
(The Return of the King, p. 161)

"Once more Aragorn bruised two leaves of 'athelas' and cast them into steaming water; and he laved her brow with it, and her right arm lying cold and nerveless on the coverlet. Then, whether Aragorn had indeed some forgotten power of Westernesse, or whether it was but his words of the Lady Éowyn that wrought on them, as the sweet influence of the herb stole about the chamber it seemed to those who stood by that a keen wind blew through the window, and it bore no scent, but was an air wholly fresh and clean and young, as if it had not before 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."
(The Return of the King, p. 164)

"Then Aragorn laid his hand on Merry's head, and passing his hand gently through the brown curls, he touched the eyelids, and called him by name. And when the fragrance of 'athelas' stole through the room, like the scent of orchards, and of heather in the sunshine full of bees, suddenly Merry awoke, and he said:"
(The Return of the King, p. 165)


"The herb was known to the Noldor, who termed it "athea" from *ATHAYA
"helpful, kindly, beneficial." A later sound shift rendered it "asea" (cf. Aragorn's "asëa aranion" in "The Houses of Healing.") In Middle-earth the word was converted into regularized Sindarin form as athe- plus -las "leaf.""
(William Cloud Hicklin, online in:

"I was the poster, and I'm pretty sure I didn't mispell the word, but I have no idea what subject line I used.

Athelas first appeared in the Weathertop chapter (although the name was added in the margin of the much earlier Lay of Leithian, where Huan brings a healing herb).

Christopher Tolkien and I have had an ongoing discussion about the origins of this word. It plainly contains -las 'leaf'. It is possible (but entirely speculative) that what Tolkien had in mind at that time (1938-39) was the Old English word aethele 'noble, royal.' This would translate 'kingsfoil,' near enough. At any rate, a very late note (1970 or later) says that Asea (cf.
Aragorn, 'asea aranion') was the name in Quenya, regularly adapted and compounded with -las in Sindarin. The plant was known to the medical loremasters of the Noldor. The root is *ATHAYA, 'helpful, kindly, beneficial.'"
(William Cloud Hicklin, online in:

asëa aranion asëa is a Q variant of athaya, a lost element meaning 'helpful', 'beneficial'; ar(a) - royal, aran king [Sil]; the -ion suffix appears to form a genitive plural: 'of kings', although of note is YO, YON- son Q -ion, Nol -ion [Etym; patronymic suffix]; perhaps implied is anna- gift [Sil]; figuratively called 'Kingsfoil' [see Athelas], technically perhaps Balm of Princes
(online in:

Athelas S; kingsfoil; athaya [a lost element] helpful, beneficial; LAS¹- leaf, Q lasse [Etym], S las; a healing plant; AS æðele noble; Old French foil leaf; see asëa aranion
(online in:

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This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: JunoMagic

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: Other

Genre: Research Article

Rating: General

Last Updated: 12/17/06

Original Post: 01/18/05

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WARNING! Comments may contain spoilers for a chapter or story. Read with caution.


Akatsukami - 22 Apr 11 - 7:47 PM

Ch. 1: Athelas

One note:  the use of "virtue" in these passages is somewhat archaic (as Tolkien doubtless intended), after the fashion of Latin virtus and Machiavelli's use of virtù.  We might substitute "potency" for a more modern reading.

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