- "Eat little at a time, and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails. The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them. One will keep a traveler on his feet for a day of long labour, even if he be one of the tall Men of Minas Tirith."
- —The Fellowship of the Ring, "Farewell to Lorien"
It is said by the Eldar that the art of preparing the lembas came from the Vala Yavanna as far back to the Elves’ Great Journey to Aman, when she brought to them a special corn grown on her fields there. These traditions were passed on throughout the long ages from house to house of the High Elves.
Melian, the Queen of Doriath, was the Maia who originally held its recipe. In the First Age, she bequeathed some lembas to Beleg Strongbow for his assistance in seeking and locating Túrin for her and King Thingol. Once Beleriand sank under the Sea and Doriath with it in FA 587, knowledge of the lembas recipe continued with Galadriel, in Lothlórien, and other Elves.
In the late Third Age, Galadriel gave a large store of it to the Fellowship of the Ring upon its departure from Lothlórien. One of the elves commented "[...] we call it lembas or waybread, and it is more strengthening than any food by men, and it is more pleasant than cram, by all accounts." Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee subsisted on it through the majority of their journey from the Anduin River to Mordor.
The bread was very nutritious, stayed fresh for months when wrapped in mallorn leaves, and was used for sustenance on long journeys. Lembas was light brown on the outside, and the color of cream on the inside. It was made of meal that was baked thin and crisp. Gimli thought it was Cram until he tasted it and found that it was sweet and pleasant, unlike Cram. It is also described as a wafer. Its recipe was a closely guarded secret, and only on rare occasions was it given to non-elves. Like other products of the Elves, it was offensive to creatures corrupted by evil; Gollum refused outright to eat it.
Though the grain used to make Lembas is called “corn” it is most likely similar to wheat. In British usage, "corn" was any grain crop; what North Americans call “corn”, British have historically called “maize”.
J.R.R. Tolkien most likely based lembas on bread known as hard tack that was used during long sea voyages and military campaigns as a primary foodstuff. This bread was little more than flour and water, baked hard to endure for many months if kept dry. However, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa wrote in his book Libri tres de occulta philosophia (Book 1, Chapter 13) of an herb from Scythia that allowed people to go for twelve days afterward without any need for food or water. It is also possible that Tolkien based lembas on this description in Agrippa's writings.
It is also possible that Tolkien, a Roman Catholic, modeled Lembas on the Catholic sacramental bread. Like the host in Catholic theology, Lembas appears to be a wafer of bread and cannot be eaten by evil beings. The origin of Lembas bread from the Elves' Great Journey is similar to the origin of the Eucharist from the Manna, which sustained the Israelites during the Exodus, i.e. another "great journey." Additionally, "waybread" resembles ''Viaticum'' (literally "traveling provisions"), the Communion given to the dying.
As Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon and English Language and Literature at Oxford University, there may also have a connection to Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, "loaf-mass"), a holiday celebrated in some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, usually between 1 August and 1 September. It is a festival to mark the annual wheat harvest, and is the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop, which began to be harvested at Lammastide, which falls at the halfway point between the summer Solstice and Autumn September Equinox.
The loaf was blessed, and in Anglo-Saxon England it might be employed afterwards to work magic: a book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that the lammas bread be broken into four bits, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain.
"Lembas" has found its way into the names of several organizations today, including financial services and foodstuffs.
Portrayal in adaptations
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy
In Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, the term "lembas bread" is occasionally used; because the gift of lembas at Lothlórien is not included in the theatrical release of The Fellowship of the Ring, the redundant term "lembas bread" was probably chosen in order to immediately identify the substance to film-goers at the beginning of The Two Towers.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, before departing Lothlórien, Legolas commented to Merry and Pippin that "one small bite is enough to fill the stomach of a grown man." Merry and Pippin's appetites as hobbits put the power of lembas to the test. Merry asked Pippin how much he had eaten. Pippin responded, "Four", and then loudly belches.
Later on, when Sam and Frodo were traveling alone, they ate chunks of the bread at a time as their only food source.
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (video game), the lembas bread is green on the outside instead of brown (presumably because it is wrapped in Mallorn leaves) and cream colour on the inside.
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Chinese (Hong Kong)||蘭巴斯|
|Kazakh||Лембас (Cyrillic) Lembas (Latin)|
|Serbian||Лембас (Cyrillic) Lembas (Latin)|
|Uzbek||Лембас (Cyrillic) Lembas (Latin)|
- The History of Middle-earth, Vol. XII: The Peoples of Middle-earth, chapter XV: "Of Lembas"
- The Children of Húrin, Ch. VI: "Túrin Among the Outlaws", pg. 119
- The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter VIII: "Farewell to Lórien"
- The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter IX: "The Great River"
- The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter I: "The Tower of Cirith Ungol"
- Gibson, L., & Benson, G. (2002). Origin, History, and the Uses of Corn (Zea Mays). Retrieved from http://agron-www.agron.iastate.edu/Courses/agron212/readings/corn_history.htm
- "The Hidden Manna in the Lord of the Rings," Scott Smith, All Roads Lead to Rome (2017)
- https://lembas.sg/ https://lembascapital.com/strategy/ https://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/news/2015/04/16/peter-thiel-has-founded-at-least-five-lord-of-the.html