Every year I hear a stray story about someone dying from eating plants that they thought were wild ramps (Baerlauch) that they picked in the English garden here in Munich. Generally what they have picked is apparently the flower known as “Lily of the Valley” which is a fairly good foil for ramps. At least if you have a stuffed nose. And they are highly poisonous.
But I had never actually seen Lily of the Valley in the English garden, which blooms later than ramps (in German they are called “Maiglöckchen” or “May bells” and indeed they bloom in late April/early May while ramps come out in April or even March), so I thought it was a lot of hogwash. Never say never. Last night I was running along the Isar in an area I rarely run in and had to stop for a moment to rest (jetlag killing me, better today.) And lo and behold – Lily of the Valley, right there next to a tree. I wasn’t actually sure – because they really did look a lot like wild ramps. So I stepped closer, sniffed, grabbed a leaf, tore it and sniffed, and realized that though the flowers hadn’t bloomed yet, there were buds there, and they had to be lilies.
I kept running after that, wondering if I would see ramps anywhere close by and indeed, about 200 meters later, there they were. A deeper green in color, and a shinier leaf, a little larger as well, but still easy to believe someone could mistake one for the other if your nose is not working. You don’t even have to reach down to grab a leaf of ramps and sniff – the garlicky scent hits you like a wall when you get anywhere near them.
The only thing I would actually worry about…would be if the patches of the plants were actually mixed in with one another. That could be very very dangerous. Didn’t see that, however. Still, if you didn’t know…grabbing one for the other could kill you. Don’t go out picking with a stuffed nose…