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Beware of false ramps while foraging, beware of the woods

We received several reports last week of people becoming violently ill and needing aid from the emergency department at the hospital because they ate what they thought were ramps but which turned out to be poisonous plants.

Ramps are also known as wild leeks and they are a favorite wild food found in the woods and on roadsides in the Tri-state region.  They are a “foraged” food.

The first rule of foraging: Do not eat anything that you are not 100% certain is safe. If you’ve never seen ramps before, if you’ve never foraged for them before, seek advice and guidance from someone who knows what they’re doing. Do not trust the internet for this; only trust another human.

This can be tricky, however, because foraged foods are rare and wonderful and foragers don’t like to share their woodland secrets. There are also concerns that people will over-harvest these wild foods and kill off the bounty that nature has provided. 

So your best bet might be to get invited to dinner at the home of an experienced forager.

Be cautious in the woods

Nature is bountiful and offers many wonderful things but it’s easy to forget that nature is not a park. The woods can be very dangerous, and this applies to foraging for food and it applies to stepping off trails and becoming injured and it applies to touching plants that are poisonous or touching things that aren’t plants but that have a coating of poison on them. 

Poison ivy is theoretically dormant right now, for example, but a young man of my acquaintance came down with a severe and miserable case of poison sumac last week.  

In recent years we have neglected to run articles warning people about the woods, but with so many new people in the area and so many of us eager to get out into the fresh air, it’s time to run through some nature basics.

The first rule is that no matter how experienced you are, you should always exert extreme caution. At least one of the people who ended up in the hospital after eating a poisonous plant last week was an experienced outdoorsperson. 

Do not be overconfident. 

Every year we get reports of local volunteer fire and ambulance companies risking their own well-being as they try to rescue hikers who have been overambitious. 

At this time of year, there are sometimes still ice patches hidden in the woods; hikers at this time of year can sprain their ankles and need to be carried out by a team of volunteers. (Note: all of our EMS workers are volunteers.) 

Stay on the path. This makes it easier for the rescue workers to find you and to get you out; and it makes it less likely that you will encounter a dangerous situation.

Bring a flashlight

Anytime you go out for a hike, keep in mind that the sun can set very quickly in the woods and on hillsides, and the temperature can drop very quickly. 

It’s better not to go out at 4 p.m. for a climb up a local slope. If you do feel you must go at the end of the day, or even if you are leaving at noon, always bring a flashlight with you; and bring

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