The word “Kok-sagyr" might become very familiar to many in the next decade or so. The Russian word for a species of dandelion has been known to the rubber industry since the Second World War when rubber supplies were cut-off and in short supply.
Russian scientists shared seeds of the species with their American counterparts and the two countries worked together to find an alternative and more domestic supply of rubber. The seeds grew easily in the United States along with dandelions that had arrived during the early settlement days. After the conclusion of the war, however, the urgency of dandelion produced rubber diminished. The dandelion became a plant of scorn, viewed as a weed and the object of chemical sprays.
The plants weed status began to change as a new fungus began to kill rubber trees throughout South America and then spread into the rubber tree plantations of southern Asia. Called the South American Leaf Blight, and technically known as microcyclus ulei, the disease has the potential to to become a serious ecological and economic problem. Often call a “tree cancer” the fungus eventually kills the rubber tree which took some twenty years to produce enough rubber to produce one small tire.
Scientists in several research centers are indicating the dandelion holds many positive attributes for rubber production. Research is ongoing, particularly in the tire center of the world, the state of Ohio where Goodrich, Goodyear and Firestone are all located.
Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center have been working with a $3 million dollar grant to test “dandelion” natural rubber found in the Kok-sagyz dandelion plant. Test results indicate it is almost identical to the quality of natural rubber obtained from the world's rubber trees. By 2015 the researchers hope to be producing 60 million pounds of natural rubber from a plant most regard as a basic weed.
The dandelion, however, is an important plant for other reasons. It is a well known healthy food source and contains many important vitamins and minerals in both the leaves, flowers and the roots. It has more vitamin A than even carrots. The leaves can be used as fresh greens, the roots used in a tea, the flowers are also edible and can be used in salads or in wine making.
The roots of the dandelion contain 40 % inulin which acts as a natural antibiotic in the digestive system. Natural inulin can also be found in other more common vegetables such as Sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions and asparagus.
The dandelion is also an important plant for honeybees and other pollinators. The bright yellow flowers provide these important insects with their first nourishment early in the spring and often provide a last meal before winter weather arrives.
The dandelion is much more than a common weed. It is likely to be an economically beneficial plant, and is already a recognized health food and one which is overall good for the pollinators.