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 and the Elves, and was commonly considered by most men and hobbits to be a useless weed. According to folklore in Gondor, it is especially powerful in the hands of the king. It was used by Aragorn when he secretly entered Minas Tirith upon his return to Gondor to heal those (such as Frodo) who had been touched by the Black Breath, 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 athelas in The Houses of Healing to revive Faramir, Lady Éowyn, 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.
In other languages: the Anglosaxon æðele ("noble") and the Old French foil ("leaf").
Other versions of the legendariumEdit
Athelas was also used by Huan and Lúthien to heal wounded Beren, according to the early Lay of Leithian. This 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 else athelas had grown in Beleriand before it was destroyed, and then brought back to Middle-earth by Númenóreans in the Second Age.