Who doesn’t love foraging? There’s something delightful about hunting down your own vegetables to eat in the wild. However, one should be very careful not to accidentally pick something potentially poisonous that might look similar to one of your favorite foraged vegetables. For those who love foraging for wild ramp, it’s vital to be able to tell the difference between this safe garlic-like vegetable and the poisonous false hellebore. Unfortunately, both of these plants can look almost identical when growing in the wild.
In this guide, we’ll break down the key differences between false hellebore and wild ramp, so you can stay safe when foraging for plants in the wild.
Comparing False Hellebore vs. Ramps
|Classification||Veratrum genus||Allium tricoccum|
|Alternative Names||False Helleborines, Corn Lilies||Wild Leek, Wild Ramp, Wild Garlic|
|Origin||United States, Europe, Japan, Canada||Eastern United States and Canada|
|Description||A leafy plant genus with pleated leaves and whitish-green or purple flowers that is very poisonous when consumed.||A perennial type of wild onion that grows glossy, oval leaves and is edible and safe for consumption.|
|Uses||Ornamental, folk medicine||Cuisine, Native American medicine|
|Growth Tips||Requires a lot of water and dense soil, which is why it tends to grow in swamps. Should be pruned regularly to prevent overcrowding once mature.||Requires moist soil and lots of shade to grow well.|
|Interesting Features||Is extremely poisonous to humans and is often confused for ramps by foragers.||Is a popular plant to forage in the United States due to its rich, garlic-like flavor.|
The Key Differences Between False Hellebore and Ramps
The only fundamental similarity between the false hellebore and wild ramp is that they boast a similar appearance with pleated leaves. Other than that, these two plants couldn’t be more different.
To start, false hellebore refers to the genus veratrum, rather than one specific species. Ramp is a specific species under the genus allium. False hellebore plants contain black rhizomes that are poisonous to human beings, while ramps are perfectly safe for human consumption.
False hellebore tends to have very ribbed leaves, while ramp does not. They both tend to have pleated leaves, which give them a similar appearance. Ramp leaves are typically found in dense upland woods, are flat, and arise directly from the soil. Floodplains, marshes, and swamps are home to false hellebore leaves, which have the appearance of being pleated and grow from a stalk.
One of the best ways to tell if a plant is a false hellebore or a ramp is to give it a sniff. Ramps are part of the allium genus, so they will have a strong onion or garlic smell. The false hellebore plant doesn’t smell like much of anything.
False Hellebore vs. Ramps: Classification
Veratrum is a genus of flowering plants in the Melanthiaceae family. In the eastern United States, you could come across veratrum viride (green false hellebore) or veratrum hybridum (slender bunchflower) while searching for wild ramp. Wherever wild ramps are present, veratrum californicum (California false hellebore) can occasionally be discovered, albeit it prefers the western side of North America.
Ramp is classified as allium tricoccum. As a member of the allium genus, ramp plants are closely related to onions, garlic, shallots, chives, and other similar plants.
False Hellebore vs. Ramps: Description
False hellebore is a genus of poisonous plants that resembles the valued wild leek or ramp, two popular foraging foods. In Vermont, false hellebore grows profusely in moist soil, frequently in the same locations as ramps, and the two might resemble one another particularly early in the growing season. False hellebore has huge, ribbed leaves, hairy star-shaped blooms, and a strong green stem that can reach heights of up to eight feet.
Ramp is a perennial herb species that sprouts from a three-inch long, ovoid-conical-shaped bulb. Sheathing that ranges in color from brown to gray surrounds the white bulbs. One flowering stalk grows from each cluster of bulbs. Ramp is a member of the onion family and is completely safe (and tasty) to consume.
False Hellebore vs. Ramps: Uses
Because false hellebore is considered poisonous and not fit for human consumption in most cases, it is not typically grown intentionally. However, the leaves of this plant have aesthetic appeal, so they might sometimes be used as ornamental or landscaping plants. Even though false hellebore is dangerous to eat, it has sometimes been used in folk medicine. The plant was traditionally taken internally in modest doses to treat pain. Dried roots were applied topically to cure fractures, sprains, and bruises, though there is not much scientific data to back it up. Strangely, the toxins lessen once the plant freezes and dies back, making the remaining components safe for animals to consume.
The majority of people eat wild ramps as an herb or as a plant that adds flavor to dishes. Ramps give soups, casseroles, eggs, rice dishes, and potato dishes a distinctively pungent flavor. In any application, they work well as a substitute for green onions, as they taste quite similar. Some Native American tribes believed that the wild ramp’s root could be used to make people throw up, while others used it to treat colds and make earache-treating juice. Some tribes utilized a tonic of the plant to treat intestinal worms.
False Hellebore vs. Ramps: Origin
The damp habitats that false hellebore are native to are spread across a large portion of temperate and subarctic Asia, Europe, and North America. Ramps, alternatively, are only native to North America and can be seen growing extensively in eastern Canada and the eastern United States.
False Hellebore vs. Ramps: How to Grow
Well-draining soil is ideal for false hellebore plants. Other than that, these plants can thrive in clay, loam, or sandy soil—though rich, humusy soil is optimal for supporting their lush foliage and blossoming. However, it is often not recommended to grow these plants due to their poisonous nature, especially in gardens that children and animals have access to.
Try to choose a location for wild ramps in your yard that is as similar to their natural growing environment as you can. They are typically found beneath deciduous trees in damp environments. The soil should be well-draining and contain a sizable amount of organic materials. The pH of the soil should be nearly neutral, ideally in the range of 6.8 and 7.2. Ramps are springtime woodland plants, therefore they require protection from the summer’s intense heat. Give them a position in shade to partial shade if you can’t plant them on the border of woodlands where they will be protected as the trees begin to leaf out. Ramps prefer consistent hydration, but they do not thrive in soggy soil.
False Hellebore vs. Ramps: Special Features
All species of false hellebore that one might find in the eastern United States are extremely toxic. Between 30 minutes and 4 hours after ingesting the plant, fake hellebore’s side effects usually start with violent nausea and vomiting. After then, a slower heartbeat and a reduction in blood pressure will follow.
All alliums, including the wild ramp, contain underground bulbs that may grow into aerial stems. Depending on the species, each plant will also yield flowers that range in color. Despite having at least 700 different species, it is one of the most significant families of food plants. However, only a small portion of alliums are grown as crops on a significant commercial scale.
Now that we’ve broken down the key differences between the wild ramp and false hellebore, foraging in the wild is much easier. Just as well, it is good to know the differences between these two plants when weeding your garden. False hellebore species are fairly hardy, so don’t be surprised if you happen to find them growing as weeds in your garden.
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What do false hellebore plants look like?
Many of the false hellebore genus of plants look similar to the wild ramp. They have flat leaves that grow directly from the ground and have a silky, pleated appearance.
Are false hellebore plant different from wild ramp?
Yes. They are completely different types of plants. The false hellebore plant is poisonous to humans, while wild ramp is often used in cuisine. Thus, knowing the difference between these two plants is important safety-wise.
Is wild ramp a type of onion?
Ramp, which is also known as wild leek, is a type of wild onion that is edible and similar to garlic or green onion.
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- TWC Staff, Available here: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=altr3
- TWC Staff, Available here: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=VECA2