I was dipping in my new book Etnobotanik about Danish Ethnobotanist Vagn J. Brøndegaard when I came across an interesting sounding article from 1954 (yes, over 60 years ago and predating me ;) ) called “Ukrudt som nytteplanter” (Weeds as useful plants). A link to the whole article in Danish is given at the bottom, but I’ve translated parts of it that I found particularly interesting to English.
He writes: “In modern times (i.e., 1950s), in which so much old knowledge is being studied, the judgement on weeds is undergoing some re-evaluation. Plant breeders have begun to interest themselves in certain of the wild plants, and a number have already been transferred from the field and ditch to the cultivated fields. Are there among them species that combine sufficiently many useful properties, not only for cultivation in previously unused land, but within agriculture on a wider scale? In the US, the large research trial institute Belleville (4,800 ha) has since 1948 carried out a total of five botanical expeditions and about 12,000 wild plant species have been brought homefrom Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Turkey and Uruguay.. After trials were performed, several of them were found to be excellent industrial plants which supplied sought after substances and American farmers must now get used to cultivate these overlooked or foraged weeds.”
He goes on to give 3 examples of useful weeds: Dandelions (Taraxacum), burdock (Arctium) and cocklebur (Xanthium spinosum).
The first is about the discovery during the war that the Russians had unknown to the west been cultivating large fields of the rubber dandelion (Taraxacum kok-saghyz) to give more reliable supply of rubber mainly for the military. Those who have read my book or attended a talk maybe remember how it seems I was the sole supplier of rubber dandelion seed in the early 2000s as interest in this plant once again increased. Last year car tyre manufacturer Continental announced that it was testing its first tires made of Dandelion rubber which they are calling Taraxagum!
and it seems that breeding is ongoing
(note that Taraxacum kok-saghyz is apparently a sexual species (i.e, not apomictic like common dandelion)
I’ve translated the part of Brøndegaard’s article on the rubber dandelion in the following link, revealing that the first dandelion bicycle and car tyre had been produced in Sweden before 1954! This adds credence to a story I tell in my talks that you can make a whole meal, with several courses, using the myriad of dandelion vegetable products (see the book), washed down with dandelion wine, finishing off with dandelion coffee and even cycle home in the future on dandelion tyres!
The part on burdock is also fascinating, another plant with multiple food and other uses including as a fibre, oil plant and source of inulin. Read more of this amazing plant in my translation of Brøndegaard’s text from 1954:
The original 1954 article in Danish :