#31 : Root to Stem with Alex Laird

16 Sep 2019

Today I’m speaking with medical herbalist and author of “Root to Stem” Alex Laird. She runs one of the few NHS medical herbalism clinics at Whipps Cross hospital in London alongside a consultant dermatologist and has over 20 years of experience.

Trained in biomedicine and plant pharmacology, Alex is also a visiting lecturer, has published numerous research papers, and is the co-founder of the charity Living Medicine.

Alex is a firm believer in using food and foraged plants to help support wellbeing.

We’re going to be cooking a recipe from the book Root to Stem and I’m fascinated by her role as a medical herbalist in the NHS.

Some of the areas that Alex and I spoke about:

  • Try growing some greenery on your windowsill & growing plants at home
  • Kitchen herbs like Basil, Coriander, Parsley are a fantastic source of nutrition
  • Try out a local foraging class in your area (it's very important that you go foraging with an expert as there are a lot of items which are inedible and may cause harm if consumed without experience advice)
  • Seasonal eating* - which is really easy to do by following which fruits and vegetables are in season and readily available at your local supermarkets
  • Including a variety of foods in your diet is key - and probably one of the most important concepts to include in the foods that you eat
  • Try walking meetings and eating al fresco where possible


*Don’t forget to check out The Doctor’s Kitchen newsletter every week for some great, easy to make, recipes using seasonal ingredients!

There is A LOT of evidence based, safe dietary and lifestyle change that we as practitioners can be confidently discussing with our patients.  Listen to the end for a summary of our discussion and how to improve your overall  wellbeing.

You’ll find the recipe video that I cooked with Alex and our super interesting conversation - on my youtube channel go check it out!

And you can find all of this information and more at www.thedoctorskitchen.com and don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter for weekly science based recipes and listen to the end of the pod for a summary of our discussion.


We co-evolved with plants, so we are complex and we need lots of complexity.  So, while modern medicine became really good at dealing with acute conditions, and still does - dont go and see a herbalist if you are knocked down on the street - so theres lots of good things about modern drugs.  But theyre not really designed for chronic disease - long term conditions that we tend to contribute to ourselves through lifestyle or food or such like.  So in 1864, got this group of people together who said we want to support the professional use of plant medicine, inform it with the emerging science and thats really where were are still today.

Alex Laird

What a wonderful conversation I had with the amazing Alex Laird - you can check out some of her tips for herbal medicine but a lot of what Alex talks about is actually very much lifestyle based too.
You will definitely find the book Root to Stem super interesting and so full of plant information but also lifestyle hints and tips too - its definitely one that you will want to read.
Dont forget to check out the information here with some of the papers that Alex has published - Im sure you will find these really interesting to read.
Check out the YouTube video here:

GUEST: Alex Laird

Alex Laird BSc DipHerbMed MCPP (Member of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy) Medical herbalist, Whipps Cross Hospital and Breast Cancer Haven In 2000 Alex set up the first herbal clinic in a hospital dermatology department at Whipps Cross in East London, where she is a tutor-practitioner for Heartwood. She has also practised for the past 18 years at Breast Cancer Haven in Fulham, and runs a private clinic. She has been a visiting lecturer at universities for herbal and medical students and published herbal medicine research. Alex was a TV producer for 12 years, then trained as an aromatherapist with Gabriel Mojay at The Institute of Traditional Herbal Medicine and Aromatherapy.  For several years she ran aromatherapy clinics at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital and for HIV-positive drug users at Turning Point and River House. This invaluable clinical experience fed into her studies at the College of Phytotherapy from where she qualified in 1999. She is currently a council member of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy. Alex is founding director of Living Medicine (www.livingmedicine.org), a health education charity. Its medical herbalists run practical self care programmes to reskill people in how to use food and plants for their everyday healthcare and exchanging knowledge between all cultures. Living Medicine’s vision is a web of community medicinal gardens nationwide linked to Britain’s first world herbal medicine/food centre of excellence. Nature, with its extraordinary and complex design, has been for Alex a key teacher. Sharing with patients how life and our bodies thrive through foods, plants, communities and the rest of nature led her to found the charity Living Medicine (www.livingmedicine.org). It teaches us all how to use food and herbs in everyday self care, updating knowledge from all cultures and feeding this into mainstream healthcare. Living Medicine’s longterm vision is to co-create with the public Britain’s first great world herbal medicine/food garden as a national centre linked to medicinal gardens globally. Motivation for my plant medicine career Wondering at the perfection of an autumn morning as a child on the shores of Loch Lomond, I had an epiphany - nature was saying something about how to live. This eventually led to my move from television to aromatherapy working with HIV drug users and hospital staff, then to herbal medicine and founding the charity Living Medicine. Nature, through its extraordinary design within and outside us, is for me the ultimate teacher. In my practice, I love learning about and teaching about how life and our bodies thrive through foods, plants, people and the rest of nature.  Exchange between all cultures is central to Living Medicines self care courses to patients and public.  Its the impetus behind our vision to create Britain’s first global medicinal garden as a centre of excellence, co-created with the public and linked to medicinal gardens worldwide. Publications Project: A pilot RCT of herbal medicine for osteoarthritis of the knee J R Soc Promot Health. 2008 Sep;128(5):255-62. Improved arthritic knee health in a pilot RCT of phytotherapy. Hamblin L1, Laird A, Parkes E, Walker AF. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18814408 A pilot RCT investigating the effect of individualised herbal medicine for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee Hamblin L1, Laird A, Parkes E, Walker AF Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies First pub Dec 2003 Volume 8, Issue 4 Page 502 Western herbal medicine is a useful adjunct to traditional dermatological practice J. Kentley, C. Brock, K. Ramamurthy, A. Laird,1, B. Linhares and A. Bewley Clinical & Experimental Dermatology (British Association of Dermatologists) 2017 The Nature-Human Connection and Health Alex Laird, Journal of Holistic Healthcare Spring 2019 (www.bhma.org) Book: Root to Stem a seasonal guide to natural recipes and remedies for everyday life Alex Laird (pub Penguin 2019)

with Alex Laird

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