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Author Topic: What is Athelas?
Roll of Honor Thorin
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What is Athelas?

I had a rather interesting conversation a couple of days ago. I learned that according to the ancient folklore of western Finland a specific plant had many medicinal properties. The leaves of the plant Greater Plantain could be bound directly over the top of a wound under bandages, which would aid healing. The preferred method, however, was to bruise the leaves and throw them into hot water. The water or the crushed leaves could then be used directly upon wounds. Of course, I was immediately struck by the similarities to athelas. Perhaps not in actual medicinal properties, but in the method of use.

quote:
'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.

Here is a picture of the plant.

 -

It certainly doesn’t look all that impressive to me. In fact, I had always just considered the plant a weed that had no uses. Of course, characters in LOTR had the same opinion of athelas.

quote:
‘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”.

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Roll of Honor Athene
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*leaps gladly on horticulture question*
The plantain does have well-documented healing properties, I believe due to the virtue of an acid in its leaves which is very similar to that found in sorrel or dock (also healing plants).

However, it just smells sharp and leafy when cruched, not really pungent. "Foil", in plant nomenclature, means leaf (feuille in French?), as in Trefoil, which is the Three-leaved Clover.

[ 07-08-2005, 08:40 AM: Message edited by: Athene ]

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Wetwang
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Plantain also doesn't have a 'wholesome' aroma that I know of either. I was always under the impression from LotR that athelas was found only locally whereas plantain is a widespread wild plant easilly found growing on any roadside or grassland habitat.

E:
quote:
as in Trefoil, which is the Thre-leaved Clover.
Hence it's Latin name 'Trifolium' []

[ 07-08-2005, 08:36 AM: Message edited by: Wetwang ]

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The Laurenendôrian
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An interesting find, master Oakenshield.

I have to say, though, that I'm not altogether surprised. Given any plant with generic medicinal properties, one of the most sensible methods of use had seemed to me to be to crush the leaves (certainly I would do this with dock leaves), and then, if one did not want to use the leaves directly, to soak it in hot water to extract the essense.

On the other hand, my opinion has mostly been pure speculation. It would be interesting to know what is done with other leaves. Anybody know?

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Roll of Honor Athene
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Is there a physical description of athelas in the book, other than its smell and healing properties?
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Roll of Honor Silmahtar
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The Laur:
quote:
On the other hand, my opinion has mostly been pure speculation. It would be interesting to know what is done with other leaves. Anybody know?
I know that you can take an aloe plant leaf, make a slice down the length and open it so that the viscous aloe juice can be applied to cuts or burns. Worked great for a jellyfish sting I had once... []

Thene: I can't find anything other than 'long leaves' to describe the plant. Sorry. []

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Roll of Honor Athene
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Actually, I do.
*puts on witch's hat*
[]
Infusion/Tisane - this is a beverage made like tea, combining boiled water with the plants and steeping it to extract the active ingredients.

Cold Extract - preparing herbs with cold water extracting only minor amounts of mineral salts and bitter principles.

Decoction - Like an infusion, but the mixture is boiled.

Juice - Straight application of juice, either topically or by mouth.

Syrup - Self-explanatory

Powder - grind your dried plant parts until you have a powder. the powder can be taken with water, milk, soup, or swallowed in gelatin capsules.

Ointment - Combine well one part of your powdered remedy with four parts hot petroleum jelly or lard (olive oil plus beeswax is better).

Essence - Essential oils dissolved in alcohol.

Tincture - 50% herbs in 50% alcohol to preserve the oils indefinitely

Poultice - to make a poultice, you just crush the medicinal parts of the plant to a pulpy mass and heat. Mix with a hot, sticky substance such as moist flour or corn meal. Apply the pasty mixture directly to the skin. Wrap a hot towel around and moisten the towel periodically.

[ 07-08-2005, 09:46 AM: Message edited by: Athene ]

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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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I thought that there was a thread on kingsfoil long ago and that someone thought that the "foil" part suggested "sword-shaped"; i.e. long and pointed.

E: I searched and couldn't find that thread. As I remember, there was some good speculation in it as to what RL plant kingsfoil might be. Does anyone else remember it?

[ 07-08-2005, 10:26 AM: Message edited by: Wandering Tuor ]

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Roll of Honor Athene
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Well.... they were wrong then. []
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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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Probably . . . They also repeatedly referrred to foilage. []
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Roll of Honor Celebrían
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Wanderin', were you remembering the discussion started by Bethberry in the Hobbiton Garden thread here ?
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The Witch-King of Angmar
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quote:
I had a rather interesting conversation a couple of days ago. I learned that according to the ancient folklore of western Finland a specific plant had many medicinal properties. The leaves of the plant Greater Plantain could be bound directly over the top of a wound under bandages, which would aid healing. The preferred method, however, was to bruise the leaves and throw them into hot water. The water or the crushed leaves could then be used directly upon wounds.
I think the first usage is known as a "poultice," while the second is known as an "infusion;" these are various herb-lores for use in treating wounds.
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Roll of Honor Athene
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*coughseeabovecough*
[]

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Morgil
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According to my RHS book of herbs The plantain is known in many areas of the world as 'white man's foot' as it is believed to have been spread by seeds caught on trousers.
It promotes healing, controls bleeding and is effective against bacterial infections. It is used externally for wounds, bruises, insect bites, ulcers, inflamed eyes, shingles and haemorrhoids.

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Roll of Honor Celebrían
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The plantain appears then to be used as an external/topical agent (Vitamin C, Vitamin E), whereas the athelas/kingsfoil seems to be used mainly as an internal anti-inflammatory.
edit: to be more specific

[ 07-21-2005, 10:11 AM: Message edited by: Celebrían ]

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Halion
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Athene posted:
quote:
“Foil”, in plant nomenclature, means leaf (feuille in French?)
Tolkien says in his ‘Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings’ under the entry Kingsfoil that -foil comes from Old French foil = ‘leaf’.
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White Gold Wielder
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I always figured athelas was some aloe variant. It fits the description of kingsfoil in every way.
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Wetwang
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Hate to disagree with you Boss, (but ain't that what debate is all about? [] ), but Aloe is a fleshy leaved plant that doesn't fair well outside in colder climates; indeed frost will kill it, the cells in the leaves explode when they defrost []
Of the 250 types of Aloes known only four are of use the most well known being Aloe Vera. It can be used both externally and internally but externally it's most effective in it's raw state. I've grown Aloe Vera indoors and I wouldn't describe it's smell as 'wholesome' either; in fact I wouldn't describe it's smell as anything really.
Here's something on the healing properties of Aloe Vera and it's many uses []
As you will see there is no mention of it's uses against Nazgûl attack or Black Breathe malady []
E: Mind you I did notice that you tried to cover your butt by saying you thought it was an aloe 'variant' []

[ 07-26-2005, 03:56 AM: Message edited by: Wetwang ]

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Roll of Honor bombadil
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Pardon my party pooping, but I've never felt the need to find real-world explanations for Tolkien's objects. (And I know that wasn't your original intent, Thorin.) I think it's fun to read threads like this, but finding a real-world equivalent of athelas is like looking for lembas, IMHO. Fun, as long as we remember it's pretend. But not serious.
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Roll of Honor Thorin
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For my part, my first point of interest was the similarities in the "method of use" of Greater Plaintain and athelas. However (as is now painfully obvious), I have no experience with the use of such plants. Athene and Laur proved that such a "preferred method of use" is extremely common and well-known among those who know how to use such medicinal plants.

My second point of interest was how I had no idea that such a plant had any medicinal purposes, much as the common folk of Gondor had no idea that kingsfoil had any medicinal uses.

So, in conclusion, my first point was not very interesting to those who already know something about plants and my second point was not very interesting to anyone (including myself). []

However, if others more knowledgeable about plants want to take this discussion into a more interesting direction, please feel free. I've enjoyed reading all the responses, and I've already learned more than I expected.

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Ëarlin Solmehína
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If there were a significant connection between plantain and athelas, couldn't it be that Prof. Tolkien took the plantain and morphed it until it fit his purposes? How many times in writing have authors taken something that already exists and made it special?

Sorry if I'm being obvious.

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Morgil
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If everyone could agree on the properties/growing conditions etc. of athelas, I could look through my book and see if any herbs fitted the bill.
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Laithaine
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So, I think I read every string on this and so if it's a duplicate, I apologize!

I've been on and on about this in my brain for sometime now. Which plant do we have that closely resembles Athelas.

Some suggested the "Greater Plaintain" because it does have so many healing properties. However, it's definitely not that. Greater plantain has no fragrance whatsoever and it's primary healing properties are via the skin as a soothant and anti-inflammatory.

I'd like to throw something else out there (again, I hope this isn't a dupe). I honestly and truly believe that what athelas really is, is Lavendar. First in the description. I read that Athelas is described as broad and bladed leaves. Well, laveder does grow in broad shrubs and the leaves are most definitely blades, not big old fat veined leaves like we are used to. It has MANY strong healing properties such as a painkiller (if you apply it to your temples you get a hot/icy sensation), metal relaxant (put it in your pillow to help you sleep), mental stimulant (distilled it is a VERY powerful restorative, ex..putting it in hot water). It has a very PUNGENT and healing scent. If you just run your hands over it, they'll be covered in that wonderful smell. It dries very well and so keeps for long times without spoiling (unlike Plantain)and you can eat it or drink it in tea. Both the leaves and the flower can be used for treating different things.

Also, it grows in high dry places (such as hilltops and knolls (ie, weathertop) as well as in fields. It requires light, but can be grown succesffully in part shade (like under a tree, in a wood, etc..)

What do you think? Could this be right?

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Roll of Honor Celebrían
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Laithaine, although we have had discussions on the possible inspirations for athelas, in The Hobbiton Garden Club, our discussions centered around the healing properties and smell, but not much on the physical plant and its environment. I like your proposal for including these.
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Snöwdog
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quote:
Laithaine said: So, I think I read every string on this and so if it's a duplicate, I apologize!

I've been on and on about this in my brain for sometime now. Which plant do we have that closely resembles Athelas.

Some suggested the "Greater Plaintain" because it does have so many healing properties. However, it's definitely not that. Greater plantain has no fragrance whatsoever and it's primary healing properties are via the skin as a soothant and anti-inflammatory.

I'd like to throw something else out there (again, I hope this isn't a dupe). I honestly and truly believe that what athelas really is, is Lavendar. First in the description. I read that Athelas is described as broad and bladed leaves. Well, laveder does grow in broad shrubs and the leaves are most definitely blades, not big old fat veined leaves like we are used to. It has MANY strong healing properties such as a painkiller (if you apply it to your temples you get a hot/icy sensation), metal relaxant (put it in your pillow to help you sleep), mental stimulant (distilled it is a VERY powerful restorative, ex..putting it in hot water). It has a very PUNGENT and healing scent. If you just run your hands over it, they'll be covered in that wonderful smell. It dries very well and so keeps for long times without spoiling (unlike Plantain)and you can eat it or drink it in tea. Both the leaves and the flower can be used for treating different things.

Also, it grows in high dry places (such as hilltops and knolls (ie, weathertop) as well as in fields. It requires light, but can be grown succesffully in part shade (like under a tree, in a wood, etc..)

What do you think? Could this be right?

ave to say I never thought of Lavendar as Athelas, but it does make a sweet scent when broken and boiled. I miss my lavendar plants.

[ 05-11-2013, 03:00 AM: Message edited by: Snöwdog ]

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