report

Common and Russian Dandelions: Nutrition, Latex and Rubber

A common dandelion flower
A common dandelion flower | Source

Edible and Useful Weeds

Dandelions are often considered to be annoying weeds, especially when they grow on lawns. Some people deliberately cultivate common dandelions in order to experience their nutritional and culinary benefits, however. The plants have another interesting benefit in addition to their edibility. They produce a thick liquid called latex, which can be turned into rubber. The Russian dandelion has the potential to become an excellent source of commercial rubber.

The use of Russian dandelions to produce rubber could soon become very important. Natural rubber is a valuable commodity because it has useful properties that synthetic rubber lacks. Unfortunately, there's a problem with the current supply of natural rubber from the para rubber tree. The Russian dandelion could be the answer to this problem.

The common dandelion plant, or Taraxacum officinale
The common dandelion plant, or Taraxacum officinale | Source

Nutritional and Culinary Benefits of the Common Dandelion

The scientific name of the common dandelion is Taraxacum officinale. The plant has bright yellow flowers that are made of many tiny florets. The dandelion’s name comes from the French phrase “dent de lion”, which means "lion's tooth". The phrase refers to the deeply divided leaves of the plant.

The leaves make a nutritious but bitter salad green. Cooking the leaves reduces their bitterness. They are a good source of vitamin C and Vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and are also rich in potassium, calcium and iron. Dandelion leaves are a diuretic, a substance that increases urine production and fluid removal from the body.

Dandelion flower heads are sometimes used to make a wine. The flowers are mixed with oranges, lemons, sugar, water and yeast (natural or purchased) and then fermented. Raisins and cloves are sometimes added to the mixture. The flowers are also dipped in a flour mixture and fried to make fritters. Some people make an infusion or tea from the flower heads or from the leaves. The roots can be cooked like a root vegetable or roasted and ground to make a coffee extender.

As is the case with any wild plant, it's important to be absolutely certain of a dandelion's identification before using it as food. In addition, dandelions picked for food should be grown in an area free of pesticides and pollution.

Edible Dandelions

Common dandelions are edible and are often used as food. Some other species of Taraxacum are also eaten. It's unknown if all dandelion species are edible, however, or if all parts of every species are edible. This is one reason why plant identification is essential when foraging for food.

Common Dandelion Latex

If the flower head of a common dandelion is removed or if the flower stem is broken, a milky white fluid exudes from the wound and coagulates after being exposed to air. The fluid is known as latex.

A dandelion’s latex is made by specialized cells called laticifers, which form long chains inside the plant. The laticifers are perforated to form latex vessels, through which the latex travels.

Latex is a complex, sticky mixture made of polymers and other substances dispersed in water. A polymer is a long molecule made of smaller molecules joined together. The components of latex include proteins, carbohydrates, oils, resins and gums. It’s thought that the function of the material is to seal wounds and to protect the plant from insect attack and infection by microbes.

Latex is produced by other flowering plants besides the common dandelion, including the rubber tree. Most rubber today is made from the latex of the para rubber tree. The population of this plant is decreasing, however, along with the world's rubber supply. In several countries there are plans to make rubber from the latex of the Russian dandelion, which is a relative of the common dandelion.

Time Lapse Video - Flower to Seed Head

Researchers say that about ten percent of flowering plants produce latex. The exudate is generally white in colour but is sometimes colourless, yellow, orange or red.

Producing Rubber From Common Dandelions

It’s possible to make rubber from the common dandelion. The process is sometimes carried out as a science experiment in schools. The experiment should be avoided by people who are allergic to latex. It’s thought that since dandelions are very different plants from rubber trees it’s unlikely that anyone with rubber latex allergies will also be allergic to dandelion latex. In fact, dandelion latex is believed to be hypoallergenic. It's probably best to wait until this is absolutely certain if someone knows that they have a latex allergy, however.

To make the rubber, part of a finger is coated with dandelion latex. Several dandelions are needed to collect enough latex. The latex is allowed to coagulate to form rubber and is then carefully rolled off the finger. (Body heat helps the rubber to form.) The dandelion rubber is stretchy but quite delicate. It's fun to play with common dandelion rubber. The product isn't good enough to use commercially, however. Luckily, the rubber from Russian dandelions is suitable for commercial use.

Collecting latex from a rubber tree
Collecting latex from a rubber tree | Source

Natural Rubber Production

The para rubber tree is also known as the Brazilian rubber tree and has the scientific name Hevea brasiliensis. In traditional rubber production, a para rubber tree is wounded with a diagonal cut and the dripping latex is collected. (The tree recovers to be tapped again in the future.) The coagulation process is sped up by the addition of formic acid. The moist chunks of rubber are pressed into sheets and dried. The drying process often involves the rubber being placed in a smokehouse.

In commercial rubber production, liquid latex is collected from the rubber tree and is shipped in air-tight containers to factories. Placing ammonia in the collection tanks prevents coagulation. In the factories, the latex is shaped into sheets or placed in molds and solidified.

Sulphur and heat are often used to "vulcanize" rubber. The chemical reaction between the rubber and the sulphur makes the rubber stronger and resistant to temperature changes. Without vulcanization, rubber tends to melt in hot weather and become brittle in cold weather.

How Natural Rubber is Made

The World's Rubber Supply

Most of the South American population of the para rubber tree has been destroyed by fungus. The tree now grows mainly in Southeast Asia. The Asian population of the tree is decreasing too, however, due to a combination of factors. These include fungal infection, political instability, loss of habitat and possibly climate change.

Rubber is used to form thousands of different products, but the majority is used to make tires. As the number of cars and other vehicles in the world is increasing, the demand for rubber is also increasing. Another problem is that natural rubber is becoming more expensive. Synthetic rubber can be produced, but vehicles require at least some natural rubber in their tires to provide elasticity. Some types of tires must be made entirely of natural rubber.

Some people grow a plant called Ficus elastica in their home or garden. The plant is sometimes known as a rubber plant or a rubber tree. It does produce a latex that can be turned into rubber. However, it's not the same "rubber tree" that's used to produce commercial rubber.

A rubber tree plantation
A rubber tree plantation | Source

History of Russian Dandelion Rubber

A high-quality rubber can be produced from Taraxacum kok-saghyz, the Russian dandelion. Some researchers say that Russian dandelion rubber is as good as the rubber produced from the para rubber tree. Russian dandelions look much like common dandelions and are native to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, two republics that were once part of the Soviet Union.

During the second world war, the rubber supply to parts of Europe and the United States was blocked. Russian dandelions were used to make rubber instead. The extraction of latex from the dandelions was an expensive process, however. Another problem was that the latex coagulated very soon after its release from the plant. Once the para rubber supply was restored, the process of making rubber from dandelions ended.

Young rubber trees (on the left) growing beside rice
Young rubber trees (on the left) growing beside rice | Source

Extracting Latex From Russian Dandelions Today

Recently researchers have once again become interested in making rubber from Russian dandelions. The cultivation of the Russian dandelion, and perhaps of other latex-producing plants, may be the solution to the world's rubber supply problem. The roots of the dandelion produce most of its latex.

Improved methods of latex removal have been created to tackle the problem of rapid coagulation after a dandelion is wounded. Researchers are also trying to increase the yield of latex and to decrease the cost of rubber production.

The latex is removed from sliced roots by solvent extraction and/or the use of a centrifuge and then processed into rubber. The exact details of the process are being kept secret by the companies involved, however. There could be a lot of money at stake in the production of dandelion rubber.

The Russian dandelion is native to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This map shows the republic of Kazakhstan, with the republic of Uzbekistan to the south and Russia to the north.
The Russian dandelion is native to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This map shows the republic of Kazakhstan, with the republic of Uzbekistan to the south and Russia to the north. | Source

Increasing the Latex Yield

Scientists have found a way to block the quick coagulation of Russian dandelion latex, increasing the amount of latex that can be removed. The latex coagulates when exposed to air due to the rapid production of polymers, a process called polymerization. An enzyme called polyphenoloxidase (or polyphenol oxidase) is responsible for the polymerization.

Scientist can stop the action of polyphenoloxidase by infecting the dandelion with a genetically engineered virus. The virus removes the section of genetic code in the dandelion's DNA that is responsible for the production of the polymerization enzyme. The genetically altered plants provide four to five times as much liquid latex as the plants that are not genetically altered. The scientists are breeding the altered plants and are trying to create large populations of dandelions that lack the problem segment of DNA.

Some researchers are trying to improve the yield of latex from Russian dandelions in a different way. They look for natural strains of dandelion that produce slightly more latex than other strains and then selectively breed the high-latex producers with other high-latex producers. They repeat this process in each generation of dandelion plants.

Natural Rubber From Russian Dandelions

The video above describes Russian dandelion rubber production by a German company. People in other countries are also growing the dandelions on an experimental basis, including people in the United States and Canada.

Inulin Production From Russian Dandelions

Russian dandelions are being cultivated for other reasons besides their ability to make latex. They contain a large amount of inulin, a carbohydrate that is being added to a growing number of processed foods. Some people confuse inulin with insulin, but they are different substances. Inulin is a carbohydrate while insulin is a hormone that regulates the blood sugar level.

Inulin is a type of fibre. It isn't digested in our stomach and small intestine, but it is digested by some of the helpful bacteria in our large intestine. Inulin is classified as a "prebiotic" rather than a probiotic. Probiotics contain useful bacteria; prebiotics support their growth.

Inulin is mildly sweet but doesn't raise the blood sugar level. This makes it useful for diabetics. It can improve the taste and texture of foods and is sometimes used as a sugar or fat substitute. Inulin also promotes calcium absorption and is used in a medical test that assesses kidney function. In addition, it can be fermented to make ethanol, which can then be used as a fuel.

A seed head of the common dandelion
A seed head of the common dandelion | Source

Most people don’t think about dandelions very much, except when they’re annoyed when the plants appear where they’re not wanted. This is a shame. Dandelions have many uses, both for individuals and for society. The Russian dandelion and possibly other types of dandelions as well may become very economically important in the next few years.

References

  • Natural Rubber Production From Dandelions
  • Wahler D, Gronover CS, Richter C, et al. Polyphenoloxidase Silencing Affects Latex Coagulation in Taraxacum Species. Plant Physiology. 2009;151(1):334-346. doi:10.1104/pp.109.138743.

© 2011 Linda Crampton

More by this Author


Comments 22 comments

Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 4 years ago from SE MA

So cool. I love learning stuff like this. Sharing this around!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing, Pcunix! I appreciate your visit.


thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 4 years ago from Sweden

Very interesting article! It is fantastic that it is possible to use Dandelions for extracting latex. Even though Dandelions are beautiful with their bright yellow color it is considered to be a weed. The only thing that sounds a bit scary to me is the genetically engineered virus. One never know how a virus behave and what the consequences might be if it comes out in nature.

Either way, this is a very interesting article and total news to me! Voted up, interesting,

Tina


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Tina. Yes, genetic engineering is a bit scary because it may have unexpected consequences. Genetics is such a complex topic and we don't completely understand it. There's still much to learn. Even without genetic engineering, though, it seems that Russian dandelions will be very helpful in producing rubber! Thanks for the comment.


arusho profile image

arusho 4 years ago from University Place, Wa.

I didn't know dandelions had so many beneficial uses. We had a lot in our lawn, but have weeded them out so the lawn would grow. I know people use them in salads and we thought about harvesting ours, but wasn't sure if ours would be good in a salad. Great hub! Maybe I could grow dandelions and sell them to the latex industry!


KwameG profile image

KwameG 4 years ago from MS

Very interesting article indeed!, Thanks for the great article and smooth flow.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, arusho. I suspect that the number of people growing dandelions - especially the Russian dandelion - will increase considerably in the near future! My local farmers market sells dandelion leaves in the spring and early summer, which I buy for salads. I've never tried eating dandelion flowers or roots, though. Thank you for commenting.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the visit and the comment, KwameG. It's nice to meet you!


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

I knew some folks eat dandelions which many of us just consider as weeds. But rubber? Who knew? Thanks for enhancing my dandelion education, Alicia, with this very informative and beautiful hub. Voted up, m'dear.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, drbj! I appreciate your comment and the vote. So many people think of dandelions simply as weeds, when in reality they have many benefits to offer us.


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

Such an interesting hub, I had no idea rubber came from these, you learn something new every day I guess! :) Thanks for sharing, voted up and interesting!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment and the vote, KathyH. It will be very interesting to see how much rubber is produced by Russian dandelions in the future!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

We actually ate dandelion leaves and also roots (after I learned that they were edible) many years ago in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin where we had a half acre of land and many dandelions. Had no idea that rubber could be harvested from them. Such an interesting and useful hub! Thanks!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I like eating dandelion leaves, and I'll try eating some dandelion root next summer. Thank you for the comment, Peggy.


natures47friend profile image

natures47friend 4 years ago from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand.

Ok....sounds like we have become herbivores here....lol

Looks like we might see the next millionaire in dandelion latex manufacturing...lol

Brilliant hub! Voted up and awesome...what a fascinating topic. I was unaware that the world's rubber was on the decline.

Happy New Year.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, natures47friend. Yes, I think someone - or some people - may make a lot of money in the future producing natural rubber from Russian dandelions!

Happy New Year to you too!


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

So interesting to learn about this--thanks!

Knowing that dandelions are beneficial to have in our diets, as well as pretty in salads, I've tried to think of ways to cultivate them without having them take over all my other plants. Family and friends will no longer laugh at my ideas when I show them this! :)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, RTalloni. It is a challenge to get dandelions to grow where we want them to and prevent them from invading other areas, but like you I think that it's worth the effort! Thanks for the comment.


oscar 4 years ago

So interesting to learn about this thanks


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, oscar.


eugbug profile image

eugbug 3 years ago from Ireland

Well you learn something new every day! I wish I could turn all the dandelions in my yard into a set of tires.

Voted up and interesting!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and the votes, eugbug. That would be a great use for dandelions!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton (AliciaC)1,250 Followers
    427 Articles

    Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.



    Click to Rate This Article