Athelas was first brought to Middle-earth by Númenóreans, but by the end of the Third Age the knowledge of its healing properties was lost among all but the Rangers of the North. According to folklore in Gondor, it is especially powerful in the hands of the king, perhaps because of the Elven heritage of the royal house. It was used by Aragorn, secretly entering Minas Tirith upon his return to Gondor to heal those touched by the Black Breath (such as Merry), an act that enhanced his reputation and strengthened his claim to the crown. The rhyme of Gondorian lore about athelas is:
- 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!
Aragorn also uses athelas to ease the pain of Frodo's wound when he is stabbed by a Morgul-blade at the Weathertop camp. The scent of the leaves also calms the minds of the other hobbits. Athelas is also used after Moria when Aragorn tends Frodo's and Sam's injuries. After the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Aragorn used the wholesome plant in The Houses of Healing to revive Faramir, Lady Eowyn, and the hobbit Merry, who were all under the shadow of the Black Breath. Some Men of Gondor use an infusion of athelas for headaches.
The etymology of Athelas can be tracked down from several origins. In Sindarin: athaya [a lost element, helpful, beneficial], las [a healing plant]. In Quenya: lasse [leaf]. From Anglosaxon: æôele [noble]. From Old French: foil [leaf].
Other versions of the legendariumEdit
Athelas was also used by Huan and Lúthien to heal wounded Beren in the early Lay of Leithian. It contradicts the information from The Lord of the Rings of it being brought to Middle-earth by Númenóreans, so it was either changed by Tolkien in later versions of his legendarium, or athelas grew in Beleriand before it was destroyed, and then brought back to Middle-earth by Númenóreans in the Second Age.