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weed with green sticky seeds

This ‘Sticky Weed’ Is Probably Growing In Your Yard, And It’s Totally Legal

LINCOLN SQUARE — There's one kind of "sticky weed" that's cultivated covertly and, if discovered, is likely to be confiscated by the feds and land its grower in jail.

And then there's the other Sticky Weed, spreading unbidden across Chicago with wild abandon wherever it can take root, from vacant lots to cracks in the pavement.

Not to be remotely confused with marijuana, Galium aparine — aka, Sticky Weed, which goes by nearly as many nicknames as Mary Jane — is actually a cousin of coffee, packing a fairly mild, but totally legal, buzz.

Turns out, Sticky Weed is also an edible green (with caveats) and has been put to all sorts of uses historically, including as a dye, an herbal remedy and stuffing for mattresses.

Imagine, this valuable resource has been hiding in plain view.

How to identify Sticky Weed?

It's easier done by touch than sight. The plant's looks are nondescript but give the weed a tug and the source of its appellation becomes clear — it acts like nature's velco.

A close-up of the plant's hooked hairs. [Flickr/Derek Lily]

That's because the edible leaves and stems are covered in hooked hairs which latch onto anything they touch. Keep that in mind before swallowing raw.

Sticky Weed is more commonly consumed cooked — sauté it the same as spinach or kale — or the stems and leaves are dried and used to brew tea.

To make "coffee," look for plants that have borne fruit. The tiny balls are also barbed — this is one seriously armored plant — but contain seeds that can be dried and roasted similar to coffee beans.

Try this at home:

Sticky Weed's fruit — pick with caution. [Flickr/ZeNeeceC]

How to get rid of sticky weed – how to get rid of cleavers for good

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Sticky weed is also known as cleavers and is a common annual weed native to hedgerows, scrub and arable land, which can spread to gardens via the fur of animals and clothes of people passing by. Seedlings normally appear in single form, rather than in congregation as many other common weeds do. The numerous and easily transmissible seeds mean the weed can quickly establish itself in gardens if they’re not brought under control straight away.

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How to get rid of sticky weed

Hand pulling or hoeing of weed seeds is arguably the easiest way to control cleavers.

However, the downside is it can be time consuming and has to be done quickly before the plants, flowers and seeds set, in order to be effective.

Make sure to use gloves if you’re grasping the stems directly to protect yourself.

As seeds can lie dormant in the soil for long periods of time, however, this task will likely be ongoing.

How to get rid of sticky weed – how to get rid of cleavers for good (Image: Getty)

How to get rid of sticky weed: Sticky weed can become a nuisance if not properly dealt with (Image: Getty)


The aim of hoeing is to sever the weed stems at or just below ground level, cutting the top growth from its roots.

A sharp hoe blade will make this process much quicker and easier.

Always sharpen the hoe blade before using it, and hoeing on a warm and/or windy day will mean plants quickly dehydrate and die.

To help reduce the number of seeds introduced in the garden, brush down clothing and pet fur following walks on arable or uncultivated land, as this is where the weed is most commonly found.

How to get rid of sticky weed: Hoeing is arguably the best way to get rid of sticky weeds (Image: Getty)

One important thing is to avoid adding any mature weeds which have set seed to a home compost bin.

To prevent germination of weed seedlings going forward, apply an opaque mulching film or layer of bulky organic mulch.

For this step, wood chips will work well, and bury them in the soil at a depth of at least 8cm (3inches).

Covering bare soil with weed-control membrane (landscape fabric) or even thick black polythene will exclude light and stop seeds germinating.

How to get rid of sticky weed: Sticky weeds often grow on flower beds and borders (Image: Getty)


Any weedkiller can be used to control and kill cleavers in beds, borders, waste ground and on paths.

Weedkillers marketed as ‘fast acting’ are contact weedkillers – killing or damaging the plant tissue they are sprayed onto or make contact with.

These tend to be based on ’naturally-occurring’ active ingredients like acetic avid and natural fatty acids.

Systemic weedkillers, whose purpose is to kill the roots, can also be used to get rid of cleavers.


To make sure weedkillers work more effectively, spray the laves where plants are actively growing – usually from March to April and September to October.

Contact weed killers will have some effectiveness if they are used during the colder winter months.

Use a fine spray to thoroughly coat the leaves in small droplets.

During the summer, spray in the evening to prevent the spray evaporating and to give maximum time for the product to work.