Pipe-weed is that famous leaf smoked by the hobbits in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. All the major hobbits in the tale were known to smoke it on occasion, and even wizards like Gandalf and Saruman, and King Elessar of Gondor himself, were proficient in the art.
Also known as the Halfling's Leaf, westmansweed (to the common people of Gondor), or sweet galenas (to the Dúnedain), pipe-weed is probably a variety of tobacco (Nicotiana). It is one of the most important industries in the Shire, the homeland of the hobbits, which is located in the north-west of Middle-Earth. The Shire-folk smoke it often, in clay or wood pipes, and consider the growing and smoking of it to be something of an art. Smoke-rings are well received, particularly fancy ones, and indeed any well-meaning foreigner who expresses an interest in the weed is likely to get his ear talked off.
The history of pipe-weed is long and convoluted
. It has been conjectured that the plant
was originally brought across the Sea
by the Men of Westernesse
, the Númenorean
s (hence the name westmansweed
). Certainly it grows readily and wild along the banks of the Anduin
and in the realm of Gondor in the south of Middle-Earth, where Men first came, though for the most part men remain ignorant of its properties. It does not grow wild in the Shire, and must be cultivate
d; therefore it is probable that it was carried up the Anduin by the vagaries of time and nature, and thence to Bree
, a town of men and hobbits a short way to the east of the Shire.
It is reasonably well-documented that the Bree-hobbits were the first to smoke the true pipe-weed, though hobbits had been putting various leaves into pipes from time immemorial. The great popularization of pipe-weed, however, came when Tobold Hornblower, of Longbottom in the Southfarthing of the Shire, brought some of the weed home from Bree in the year 2670 of the Third Age (1070 in Shire-Reckoning). The Southfarthing, with its wide, sheltered valleys and warm climate, turned out to be the ideal location for pipe-weed farming, and many entrepreneurs sprang up and began farming, selling, and exporting it. Leaf from the Southfarthing was even found as far south as Isengard in the last years of the Third Age.
Bree, however, continued to grow its own pipe-weed for the most part, and it is likely in passing through that town that some men, dwarves, and wizards have grown fond of it, for rarely do any but hobbits enter the Shire, or speak to its inhabitants. Pipe-weed grows nearly as well on the south side of Bree-hills as it does in the Southfarthing.
The chief brand-markings of the hobbit-leaf are Longbottom Leaf, Old Toby, and Southern Star. Longbottom Leaf was begun by Tobold Hornblower himself, and was still produced by the Hornblower family well into the Fourth Age - it was Longbottom Leaf that was found in Isengard. Old Toby was named after the venerable patriarch, and probably begins its history some short time after the beginnings of Longbottom Leaf. Southern Star is named so for its growth in the Southfarthing, and also (probably) for the leaf's resemblance to a star.
The preeminent pipe-weed historian of the Shire is Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck "the Magnificent", Master of Buckland and Squire of Rohan. His Herblore of the Shire is widely recognized as the most comprehensive treatise on the subject.