Some enterprising folks dry and roast sticky Willy seeds and use them as a caffeine-free coffee substitute, according to “Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest.”
But before declaring war on this annoying, cloying thing, I decided to take a closer look. Why is it in my backyard? Can I make it go away? And should I first consider what it might be good for? Every living thing has some redeeming value, right? Right. So, here’s what I’ve dug up so far on sticky Willy:
Corn gluten meal is an organic pre-emergent treatment recommended by many organic sources to help control annual weeds. Some gardeners swear by it, but others say it’s not very effective. I haven’t tried it, but I’m planning to before next spring. (Some of my sticky Willy is already blooming, so I might have missed my best chance to stop its spread by yanking it out.)
Sticky Willy can also be consumed as a tea, according to several other herbal sources. “The Handbook of Alternatives to Chemical Medicine” suggests steeping 1 teaspoon of crushed leaves in 1 cup of boiling water to promote weight loss and soothe irritation of the urinary tract. Or cook it with beans, to add flavor and reduce flatulence. Sticky Willy Beano?
She says the important thing to do now is to get lawns healthy again, so that invading weeds won’t find a welcoming environment.
According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, sticky Willy is a native throughout North America. Under “benefits,” it is listed as having a “conspicuous flower.” Well, maybe if you’re using a magnifying glass. The Wildflower Center entry also points out that the plant is sometimes called bedstraw because one of its sweeter smelling cousins (G. verum) was used to stuff mattresses in medieval times.
And if you want to keep sticky Willy from coming back next spring, pull it (or mow it) as soon as you see it. Otherwise, after it blooms, it will throw off seed that will turn into next year’s sticky Willy problem.
Remove cleavers regularly by hand, or hoe off young seedlings before they set seed. Avoid getting seeds on clothing, as this can inadvertently spread it around the garden. Mulch borders with a 5cm layer of garden compost or composted bark to suppress seedlings.
A short-lived plant that grows sticky mats of foliage, which can swamp cultivated plants. It produces sticky seeds, which can be spread around the garden by animals and on clothing.
freshly-cultivated ground in borders, established flowerbeds, pots, vegetable plots
Cleavers (Galium aparine) grow rapidly during warm weather. The sticky stems are able to scramble around the garden, smothering small, cultivated plants and setting masses of seed. It’s usually introduced on the coats of animals, birds’ feathers or human clothing. Its lifecycle is approximately eight weeks from germination to setting seed.
Apply a contact weedkiller when the plants are young and before they get a chance to flower.
Do Time to act in June
Do Time to act in March
By way of a note on human consumption: because of the high tannin content, cleavers in any consumable form, make a powerful astringent and amongst its active components, it contains coumarins which thin the blood and asperuloside which can be converted into prostaglandins that stimulate the uterus and affect blood vessels.
Plants, even the ones we often dismiss as weeds, have fascinating backstories. Cleavers get their common name for their reputation to cleave to — as their hairy stem and fuzzy seed structure does adhere easily to passers-by — so their stems and seed may stick to your clothes or the fur of your pet and make their way back from a walk, right into your garden. What a cool way to disperse the next generation — hitchhike. A sneaky trait, but you’ve got to admire efficiency and tenacity.
Do not Time to act in February