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The poem Since by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa begins as follows:

Spring was late. We watched her toss her seeds like a weary pilgrim. The jacaranda flowered a hazy purple and the hermit said it would be a good year. He said chewing nettle leaves was a thing of the past.

Nettle leaves have been used in traditional medicine, so I assume that when he said that chewing them was a thing of the past he meant that he would no longer have to use them medicinally. Why is that, though? How does this follow from it being a good year? And how does the fact that it's going to be a good year follow from the previously stated facts (the jacaranda flowering, spring being late)?

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Mightn't it simply mean there will be better things to eat than nettles?

Generally people only eat nettles if there's nothing else. In Chapter 4 of Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell quotes in full a folk song she calls The Oldham Weaver. [Its use of Lancashire dialect has been discussed here and here.] The singer is desperately poor.

We lived upo' nettles, whoile nettles wur good,
An' Waterloo porridge the best o' eawr food,
Oi'm tellin' yo' true,
Oi can find folk enow,
As wur livin' na better nor me.

Waterloo porridge was no doubt made from fire and water. (It was said that in the battle, rain soaking the French gunpowder contributed to their defeat.) So nettles and Waterloo porridge is nettles and water.

Many health benefits are claimed for nettle tea, but it is said to "boast a hay-like flavor that can be evened out with the addition of a dash of honey or agave." [Sencha Tea Bar] Nettle soup, made without so much as a stock cube, might keep body and soul together, but

The keys to an excellent nettle soup are potato - to give it body - and really good stock - to give it spirit. [River Cottage]

If nettles taste like hay the hermit might be glad not to have to chew them any more.

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  • Plants that are only eaten when people are starving are known as "famine food". Feb 16 at 15:21
  • I think there is a fine line between 'famine foods' and 'winter foods'. Apparently in Tibet (and Tsering Wangmo Dhompa is a Tibetan poet) dried nettles are a winter store food as well as a spring shoots food. ethnobiomed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1746-4269-10-75
    – Spagirl
    Feb 16 at 15:33
  • Nettles can be cooked and eaten, but they're certainly not enough to live on in terms of protein and calories, compared to other traditional Tibetan foods like meat or barley. Although these days in fashionable restaurants you can pay lots of money for freshly foraged veg such as nettles.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 17 at 20:29
  • @StuartF Though there is a hermit, famous in Tibetan lore for doing just that. Milarepa lived in a cave for a year eating nettles. he turned green, either from nettle consumption or because he was covered in algae, apparently. hermitary.com/articles/milarepa.html
    – Spagirl
    Mar 7 at 17:23

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