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Nature has some incredible things to teach us.  And these lessons can be in plain view but we miss them.  One such example is the herbs plant  burdock.
Known in the herbal world for its culinary and medical qualities, burdock has earned itself a name forever in history.  In fact it was part of the space mission. And all because a man took his dog out hunting.
One day in the early 1940’s a man called George de Mestral took his dog out on a hunting trip.  On their return both he and the dog had burdock seeds attached to his clothing and the dog’s fur.   De Mestral was a Swiss inventor and he became curious as to how these seeds stuck to both him and the dog.

When he looked at the seeds through a microscope, he saw that the seeds were covered in tiny hooks which would latch on to anything that looked like a loop.  Thus the hooks caught on to fur and hair and certain clothing of passers by and thus were spread over long distances. No wonder this herbs plant was so prolific.

De Mestral was intrigued by this hook and loop system and decided that it could be manufactured and applied to man-made materials as a means of joining things together. All he had to do was work out how to make the hooks and then the loops.   To begin with he received no encouragement whatsoever. Eventually a weaver in Lyons agreed to help him and made two cotton strips which worked in principle.  However the cotton did not last very long.  De Mestral decided to investigate synthetic fibers.  Nylon then was a brand new, state of the art material, and after some research, de Mestral discovered that if sewn under a hot infrared light, ideal nylon hooks resulted.

The loops were also made from nylon.  The process he developed consisted of heat-treating the loops which made them tough and resilient -necessary for repeated opening and closing the fastening.  However the fastener did not work well until after a long time of disappointment he finally found that if the loops were cut, the fastener worked perfectly.

From beginning to end, creating the fastener and then working out a satisfactory manufacturing process took 10 years.  In 1951, de Mestral submitted his idea to the patent office in Switzerland.  The patent was granted in 1955.  The name of the invention was Velcro, coined from the two French words, “velours” which means velvet and “crochet” which means hook.

The  ‘zipperless zipper’

Velcro was patented in many countries around the world.    A journalist in America  nicknamed it the “zipperless zipper” and said it was even more sensational than the invention of the zipper 25 years previously.

Fame did not follow immediately.  The early Velcro was certainly not attractive to the fashion industry.  Velcro’s acceptance began with NASA saw the benefits it could provide in helping spacemen to get in and out of their bulky spacesuits.   In the weightless environment of a spaceship, spacemen could store food pouches on the wall, and even stand upright with the aid of Velcro.  It was the publicity that NASA received that made people assume that Velcro was a NASA creation.    Then scientists began to think “outside the box”.

NASA uses Velcro in space shuttles in many different ways to combat the difficulties of being in a weightless environment.   It is a great way to anchor objects such as helping to keeping a meal tray steady in one place.  Apparently it has also been used as a nose scratcher inside an astronauts’ helmet! Once that concept of Velcro was accepted, other possible uses began to appear.  Skiers came next, again because Velcro made it easier to get into and out of their skiing gear.  This was followed by scuba divers and it became part of marine gear.

At last the benefits of Velcro fasteners began to be realized in more and more ways. It is fascinating to think that only a few years before people did not think that Velcro had any really useful advantages. How wrong they were.  Today many other uses for Velcro have been found. It is ideal for sticking badges on to uniforms.  The shoe industry uses Velcro fastenings.  The are numerous uses in the industry of children’s clothing, including Velcro fasteners on disposable diapers.  It has proved invaluable to people with certain disabilities.  It fastens bags and backpacks.  It is used in the upholstery industry for loose covers.  The auto industry uses it to secure mats.  It stops carpets from slipping.  It closes pockets securely.    It is used in medicine for orthopedic  braces.  People are inventing new uses for Velcro every day.

One of the amazing features of Velcro is its strength.  Given certain specifications as to how well the hooks are embedded and how much surface area is in contact with the hooks, a two inch square can support an 175 pounds (79kg) person.

One other fascinating fact about Velcro is that although it can stick a man to a wall, it is also very easy to pull the two pieces of Velcro apart.  How does that happen?  This is because when we undo Velcro we are doing it a little at a time.  However, if Velcro is applied to a rigid surface so it cannot be peeled apart, the bond is extremely strong and if the article is vibrating the bond even stronger.

As more and more uses are found for this amazing adaptation of nature.its worthwhile to ponder on the fact that this marvelous concept was there to discover from ancient times.   We just need to be able to see life in a different light and think “outside the box”.  When George de Mestral and his dog returned from an outing,  both with burdock burs on them, de Mestral was fascinated and wanted to know how that could happen.

Our story is not quite done.   There is now a science which is becoming more and more important as we look for better ways to run our planet.  It is called bio mimicry and it means imitating life. One of the things these scientists do is to look at natural processes and work out how they can be copied for our use.  That is exactly what George de Mestral did.

And that is the origin of his quote, “If any of your employees ask for a two-week holiday to go hunting, say yes.”

However the real hero of the story is not de Mestral, it is the humble burdock herb which has been trying to  show mankind a better way to fasten things for centuries.  Incredible!

 Courtesy of http://www.startaherbgarden.com

Fun Folklore:In the Middle Ages, knights often rode into battle with a sprig of burdock, which was said to protect and promote healing, particularly of the feet. A charm of burdock root, gathered under a waning moon and strung around the neck, will ward away evil influences.

I hope you've enjoyed the fun Facts & Folklore about Burdock, Stayed tuned for spells with Burdock!


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