Friday, November 23, 2012

Burdock – a vegetable that inspired the invention of Velcro

The Metal Zipper
Velcro, a hook and loop fastener has rivaled the zipper in its ability to fasten two pieces of an item together. Where zippers cannot be used, strips of Velcro fasteners are used instead. Velcro fasteners are used everywhere, as fasteners for clothing, shoes, bags, toys, and school and office supplies. Its application seems endless. It’s even used in space shuttles. Such is the wide range of applications for this innocuous invention that was inspired by the seeds of a vegetable, the burdock. The vegetable is a native in the Old World, composed of Asia, Europe and Africa. 

What is a burdock?

Burdock is a biennial root vegetable that is related to the artichoke. It has large, heart-shaped dark green leaves with wooly undersides. Seeds of the burdock are covered with burrs, which adhere to fabric and fur, facilitating the seed dispersal.  The long and slender taproot, which could grow to about one meter in length, is edible and figures in many Japanese, Chinese and Korean cuisines. It is crisp and has a mild sweet taste. In Japan, burdock is called gobō  while the Taiwanese and Koreans call it u-eong (u-ong). It is also popular in Portugal, Italy and Brazil, where it’s called garduna or bardana.

Uses of burdock

Burdock came into the international spotlight in the 20th century when it was found out that the vegetable was good for microbiotic diet for it is low in calories and contains dietary fibers, amino acids, potassium, calcium and complex tannin-iron. It also contains very powerful antioxidants. Its seeds are used in traditional Chinese medicine while folk herbalists recommend dried burdock as a blood purifying agent, an herb to induce sweating for fever management and release of toxins and as a diuretic.

It was once used in Europe as a bittering agent for beer before hops was used. Burdock and dandelion is a popular soft drink in the United Kingdom

Relationship with Velcro
Velcro Hooks
Swiss engineer, inventor and amateur mountaineer George de Mestral invented the Velcro fastener. He founded the company Velcro Industries that manufactures it, which is a multi-million dollar industry today. It was in 1941 when he encountered the burrs of the burdock when he and his dog went out for a walk in the Alps and never realized that they were brushing against the plants. It was only when they got home that he found the burrs clinging to his trousers and his dog’s fur. Ever curious, he examined the burr under a microscope and saw the small hooks at the end of the burrs that caused them to cling to anything that brushed against them. He got the idea to invent a fastener using the seed’s natural property, and became one of the best examples there is of biomimicry. Velcro was initially marketed as the “zipperless zipper.”

Velcro Loops
The name Velcro was derived from the French word velours (velvet) and crochet. 

Did you know that Velcro was used to hold together a human heart? It was done during the first artificial heart surgery in 1969.

Bernadiine B. Racoma, Editor
Day Translations, Inc.
“The most accurate translations on the planet!”

Photo Credits:
- The Metal Zipper
- Burdock
- Velcro Hooks
- Velcro Loops


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