false hellebore and ramps

False hellebore leaves will look pleated and be growing off a stem.

Each spring, many Vermonters head out to try and find ramps – a wild edible that’s commonly foraged and also known as wild leeks. But state officials are warning people who try to find ramps to be careful and not ingest something that looks similar.

A poisonous look alike called false hellebore is often mistaken for ramps and has already caused one reported poisoning in Vermont this year, according to the Northern New England Poison Center. Last year, the poison center managed 25 cases involving Vermonters with possible false hellebore poisoning – more than four times the usual number.

“Eating false hellebore can be very dangerous,” said Sarah Vose, state toxicologist with the Department of Health. “You can be enjoying a meal one minute and then need to be rushed to the hospital.”

False hellebore contains alkaloids – a poisonous chemical that can make people extremely sick and cause them to be hospitalized. Symptoms of being poisoned by false hellebore include severe nausea and vomiting – which often move on to slow heartbeat and low blood pressure – slowed breathing, weakness, dizziness, numbness and tingling, and sweating.

Anyone who may have eaten false hellebore is encouraged not to wait for symptoms to appear and to call the Northern New England Poison Center immediately at (800) 222-1222. They can also chat with someone online at nnepc.org or by texting “poison” to 85511. If someone has passed out or is having trouble breathing, it’s advised to dial 911.

false hellebore and ramps (copy)

Ramp leaves will look flat and be growing directly from the ground.

State officials urge people who go out to harvest wild ramps to know how to properly identify them. The leaves of ramps are flat, grow directly from the ground, are generally found in rich, upland forests, and smell strongly like onions. False hellebore leaves are pleated in appearance, grow from a stalk, occur in floodplains, marshes and swamps, and do not smell like onions.

“Harvesting wild edibles like ramps is a healthy and rewarding activity, but always know what you are gathering,” said Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Bob Popp. “One of the simplest ways to identify a ramp is to smell it. If it doesn’t smell like an onion, don’t eat it, it’s not a ramp.” Popp also reminded foragers to always harvest in a sustainable manner, minimizing impact on the ecosystem.

Learn more about false hellebore and how to recognize it at gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/veratrum/viride. For more information about ramps and wild leeks, visit gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/allium/tricoccum.

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