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]