Nail Soup: Just Add the Spices

If you’re facing challenging times or if you’re simply feeling down and out, here’s a story shared by John Brown, former CEO of Hospice of Crawford County, that just might help you get back on your feet.

One day an old traveler happens upon a small dilapidated cottage a few miles out of town. As he approaches, an elderly woman opens the door and greets him with a hesitant smile.

“How are you?” he begins on a note of enthusiasm.

“Okay, I suppose,” she replies in a sullen manner.

“Do you mind if I join you for a hot meal?” he asks. “I haven’t eaten in a few days.”

“But sir … I haven’t enough to feed myself. There’s not a scrap of food in the house. My husband died and I’ve been through some tough times, and…”

“But madam!” he interrupted. “I have just what we need to make the most delicious soup you’ve ever tasted.” Before she could say another word, he pulls an old nail from his pocket and holds it in front of her face.

“A nail … are you kidding? What good is a nail when we’re both starving?” she demands.

“My dear woman … this is the secret ingredient for the soup. Trust me, I’ll show you how it works.”

Upon entering what’s left of the small cottage, the old traveler takes off his coat and walks into the kitchen. Sure enough, the cupboards are bare. He rolls up his sleeves and directs the woman to fill a pot with water and place it on the stove. When it begins to boil, he throws in the nail. She just stares at him in despair.

He knows the look of despair on her face – he’s seen it many times.

“Madam, I realize this may be impossible, but would you have even the slightest remnant of a potato anywhere? It could add some flavor.”

“I doubt it … but I’ll look,” she says while walking down the creaky stairs into the old root cellar. There the old woman finds a few old potatoes in the corner and presents them to the traveler. After washing and dicing them, he drops the pieces into the pot.

“By the way, would you happen to have a parsnip or turnip around? If you don’t, it’s alright.”

Remembering she saw one in the cellar, the old woman soon returns with another specimen and it winds up in the boiling water as well.

“You know, although we don’t need it, some seasoning might add some flavor,” says the traveler. Soon she’s back with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

“Wouldn’t it be nice, not essential of course, to have a fresh carrot or two?” he asks. A short time later she presents a handful of vegetables from her old garden.

“And I know this is probably out of the question, but a little flour for thickening could really add the finishing touch … not necessary of course, but certainly a nice addition.”

After scavenging around the kitchen for a few minutes, the old woman finds some flour, makes it into a paste and slowly stirs it into the soup. Somewhat exhausted, she sits down at the kitchen table, closes her eyes, places her head on her hands, and begins to notice a wonderful aroma that immediately stimulates fond memories.

A tap on the shoulder arouses her, as the traveler places a delicious bowl of Nail Soup before her. And as they savor the hearty meal, the old woman is awestruck. For she has witnessed magic – or perhaps a miracle heralding better times.

This old story, recounted over the ages in many cultures, reflects the true resourcefulness that’s buried within each of us. It builds on the power of the human spirit to uncover the survival elements we need that often seem hidden, yet really exist in front of our eyes.

Nail Soup is a metaphor of encouragement, of belief and of rediscovering what is missing – perhaps the truest elements of healing. It shows us that when we reach deep within, we nourish ourselves and fortify our spirit.

So if you’re at your wit’s end, look around you and know that as a precious child of God, you too have all the ingredients you need to create a personal recipe for success – Mind Over Matter!

© 2000 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved

Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, inventor and researcher. He is the CEO and Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, 18201 Conneaut Lake Road in Meadville, phone (814) 724-1765, fax (814) 333-8662,

Contact Dr. Bittman

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Written by Barry Bittman MD

Explore Wellness in 2021