Rubber from Dandelions
Ken Fern, author of Plants for a Future, was the first writer to open my eyes to the astounding array of uses for plants. One of the greatest eye-openers was that the latex found in various temperate zone plants was significant enough to be commercially viable. On his website, Fern lists over 60 species (!) that produce potentially useful amounts of latex, including various dandelions, milkweeds, thistle and ground nuts.
I tucked that info in the back of my mind, only to come across it again and again in various other readings about edible. medicinal, and useful plants. Apparently dandelion, our ubiquitous friend, was actually cultivated in Poland during World War II for its latex. Dandelions are still cultivated today for their latex in various Eastern Europe and Western Asian countries according to Wild Foods and Useful Plants by Christopher Nyerges.
With that in mind, I began my search on turning dandelion (and other temperate plants) into tires (and other useful rubber products). The first webpage I opened on this topic  announced that Ohio State University had (Summer 2008) received a $3 million grant to "start turning dandelions into rubber." This seems absurd to me, considering rubber production from dandelions has been viable AT LEAST since world war II. Moreover, dandelion is ubiquitous, a plant of the common person. Nyerges refers to as the "poor man's ginseng" as it is nutritionally and medicinally rich (although sorely under valued as such). As such, the study of turning it and other plants into latex should be open and decentralized. Latex production should be common knowledge and I hope that in the near future it is produced on a community or village scale.
The goal here is to provide practical information and plans for making local rubber out of temperate climate resources.
- 1 History and Resources on Rubber Produced in Temperate Climates
- 2 Temperate Climate Plants that Produce Latex and an Evaluation of their Practical and Ecological Use in Rubber Making.
- 3 How to Convert Latex into Rubber
- 4 Chemistry of Rubber and Rubber Products
- 5 Equipment Needed for Rubber Production: From Harvest to Processing
- 6 Research Projects
- 7 Resources and References
- 8 Companies
History and Resources on Rubber Produced in Temperate Climates
Temperate Climate Plants that Produce Latex and an Evaluation of their Practical and Ecological Use in Rubber Making.
Plants that produce latex (scientific: common names)
The original basis of this list is from the well-researched and documented Plants for a Future website . Others may be added as further research is done.
- Agoseris glauca: Mountain Dandelion
- Apios americana: Ground Nut
- Apocynum androsaemifolium: Spreading Dogbane
- Apocynum cannabinum: Indian Hemp
- Asclepias asperula: Antelope Horns
- Asclepias brachystephana
- Asclepias californica: California Milkweed
- Asclepias decumbens
- Asclepias eriocarpa: Woollypod Milkweed
- Asclepias erosa: Desert Milkweed
- Asclepias galioides: Bedstraw Milkweed
- Asclepias hallii: Purple Silkweed
- Asclepias incarnata: Swamp Milkweed
- Asclepias involucrata: Dwarf Milkweed
- Asclepias lanceolata: Purple Silkweed
- Asclepias latifolia: Broadleaf Milkweed
- Asclepias mexicana
- Asclepias ovalifolia
- Asclepias pumila: Low Milkweed
- Asclepias purpurascens: Purple Milkweed
- Asclepias quadrifolia: Fourleaf Milkweed
- Asclepias rubra: Red Silkweed
- Asclepias speciosa: Showy Milkweed
- Asclepias subulata: Rush Milkweed
- Asclepias sullivantii
- Asclepias syriaca: Common Milkweed
- Asclepias tuberosa: Pleurisy Root
- Asclepias viridiflora: Green Milkweed
- Chrysothamnus graveolens: Rubber Rabbitbrush
- Chrysothamnus nauseosus: Rubber Rabbitbrush
- Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus: Green Rabbitbrush
- Cynanchum acutum:
- Eucommia ulmoides: Gutta-Percha
- Euonymus europaeus: Spindle Tree
- Euonymus hamiltonianus
- Euonymus hamiltonianus maackii
- Euonymus hamiltonianus sieboldianus
- Euonymus japonicus: Japanese Spindle Tree
- Euonymus latifolius
- Euonymus verrucosus
- Euphorbia lathyris: Caper Spurge
- Hymenoxys richardsonii: Pingue Hymenoxys
- Marsdenia tenacissima: Rajmahal Hemp
- Nerium oleander: Oleander
- Parthenium argentatum: Guayule
- Scorzonera acanthoclada: Teke-Saghyz
- Scorzonera albicaulis
- Scorzonera divaricata
- Scorzonera hissaricata
- Scorzonera racemosa
- Scorzonera tau-saghyz: Tau-Saghyz
- Scorzonera tragapogonoides
- Scorzonera turkestania
- Scorzonera virgata
- Solidago canadensis scabra: Canadian Goldenrod
- Solidago fistulosa
- Solidago leavenworthii
- Solidago rigida: Stiff Goldenrod
- Sonchus oleraceus: Sow Thistle
- Taraxacum hybernum
- Taraxacum kok-saghyz: Rubber Dandelion
- Taraxacum megalorrhizon
- Taraxacum officinale: Dandelion
Quantity, Quality, Ecology
Within the species of Dandelion, Taraxacum kok-sanghyz (abreviated as TKS), the Russian or Rubber Dandelion has the highest latex content. According to Nyerges TKS has 20 percent latex content, while the officinale species has 16-17 percent dry-weight latex. Yields of 150-500 kilos per hectare are recorded .
Since the common dandelion has the greatest medicinal and nutritive value, ecologically, it may seem most prudent to grow this multi-purpose species. However, the latex from T.officinale is "a low quality latex, which can be used for making rubber" , which suggests that it is not ideal for this purpose.
How to Convert Latex into Rubber
This section is divided into plants that are processed in similar ways. Equipment for planting, harvesting, and extracting as well as processing should be defined. Sources for plant material, seeds or otherwise should also be included.
The roots of the plant are used for latex production, harvested in fall before a hard frost can destroy any of the latex. I'd like to see a study on actual changes in latex composition before and after frost. Also, a study comparing the content at various other stages of the plants growth would be beneficial.
The roots are macerated, which, according to the free on-line dictionary  means to "To separate into constituents by soaking". I don't have information on what to soak them in. Fern says water is used as a soaking medium. Are there better mediums to use? Does the root need to be crush before it is soaked? How long should it soak for? Fern references Polhamus. L. G. Rubber: Botany, Cultivation and Utilization which may have beneficial information for our purposes.
Fern suggests, specifically under the T. kok-sanghyz description, after the latex is extracted, starch inulin can be converted to fuel alcohol. This secondary use would increase the ecology of using the TKS species.
Chemistry of Rubber and Rubber Products
Equipment Needed for Rubber Production: From Harvest to Processing
We invite student research projects with the aim of:
- Harvesting dandelion as a test species
- Extracting latex
- Converting latex to sample rubber in the B. Z. Gill Rubber Liberation Laboratory
Resources and References
-  Plants for a Future's listing of plants with latex. PFAF is a well-researched, well-documented database with descriptions of 7000 temperate edible, medicinal, and useful plants by Ken Fern of England.
- Nyerges, Christopher: Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants.
-  Blog of business opportunities. This article gives a brief description of the possibility of turning latex from dandelions into rubber. More news based than practical information based.
- From ScienceDaily: "Dandelion Rubber? Researchers Make Russian Dandelion Suitable For Large-scale Rubber Production"
- related: Dandelion wine (Appropedia)