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Leading Article: Potent folklore

THERE'S SOMETHING potent in the colour blue. Hippies in the Sixties discovered that ingesting ground-up "heavenly blue" morning glory seeds could give them an LSD-type high; now scientists at the British Association's Festival of Science at Sheffield are reporting that bluebells may provide a cure for tuberculosis. Welsh monks in the 13th century knew about the medicinal properties of bluebells, too, but they used them for treating leprosy.

We have grown so used to hearing that science has disproved the old wives' tales of herbalists, homeopaths and others of their ilk that it comes as a surprise to learn that pharmaceutical researchers are busily screening the flora of Wales to discover whether cures mentioned in old books and still handed down by locals might yield usable chemical compounds.

Evolution would seem to hold the explanation to the intimate connection between human health and plant biology. Every living thing, after all, is descended from the same single-cell organisms; consequently, what makes one species flourish is likely to be good for another.

This meeting of the worlds of molecular science and folklore holds out a pleasing prospect: perhaps next year's Festival of Science should forsake the universities and be held at Glastonbury.