For those of us overly familiar with hospitals and with views about the climate of arrogance that seems to dominate some areas of Western medicine — Alex Laird is a breath of fresh air. I’m delighted that after our brief hiatus it’s Alex that is kicking off our Anthophile interviews once more.
Alex is a medical herbalist with more than 20 years clinical experience. Trained in biomedicine and plant pharmacology, she treats patients in the only NHS herbal clinic based in a UK hospital at Whipps Cross. She worked with Breast Cancer Haven UK for 20 years, using nutritional therapies alongside conventional treatment for cancer. Alex is a visiting lecturer, and has published numerous research papers, and is the co-founder of the charity Living Medicine. Her book ‘Root to Stem’ is a great read: scientifically rigorous yet accessible and informative.
Your three favourite flowers?
I can’t live without ravishing old roses, white lilies and narcissi – scent is what makes flowers so special
Tell us about your childhood garden?
It was on Loch Lomond. I remember a path through long grass to a bay sheltered by a sandy spit with two small trees at its end called Adam and Eve. To the left, two magnificent Scots pines whose red trunks reflected the setting sun. The Maid of the Loch, a famous white paddle steamer, would glide gracefully past.
Who or what inspired your career choice?
Growing up by the loch, with its woods and the wild glen behind with the Luss River, astonished me daily with its beauty and changing weather and I wondered what to do with this huge and moving feeling…
What is a typical day in the life of Alex?
Patients, clinic, dispensing, cooking, allotment, gardening, teaching, researching, talking, sharing, thinking, learning, listening
No garden is complete without …
a Daphne odora to swoon over and aromatic herbs for delicious long-infused tea and wild plant foods - some say weeds, not I - to forage – thank you to our plant-relatives!
Something we’d find:
· On your bedside table: a little vase of flowers – rose, honeysuckle, freesias, narcissi,
· In your flower arrangement: I love having little vases of flowers. Splitting up lilies into individual flowers is a favourite trick
· In your garden shed: 100 year old tools belonging to my grandparents
The flaw you wish you didn’t have?
What would you be in another life?
A rock ‘n roll or blues singer
Truth, beauty, reciprocity
Who is a botanical (or horticultural) hero?
John Parkinson – 17thC apothecary and master gardener
What is the one flower or plant you’d never plant in your garden, but don’t detest when you see others plant it?
I was given a mulberry whip which would be much too big for my garden, so I put it in a large pot and am learning to bonsai its vigorous growth with the hope it will fruit one day.
If there was a fire, and you could only keep one book on herbal medicine, what would it be?
The Secret Teachings of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner
For posterity, what would you like your work to be known for?
Inspiring a love and understanding of nature and life’s exquisite design
Living Medicine, the charity I founded to reskill us all in how to use plants and food for our health
My book Root to Stem – a seasonal guide to remedies and recipes for everyday life by Alex Laird. Penguin press.
Quick fire: some favourite things
· Book (fiction): Middlemarch
· Film: City of Joy documentary 2016
· Painting: Still Life by Sanchez Cotan
· Smell: Rosa Mme Isaac Perèire
· Meal: pasture-fed steak with frites or pommes dauphinoise and rainbow chard
· Travel Destination: Venice as never yet visited
· A cause near and dear to me: education for all about individual and planetary health and peace through our interdependence with each other and nature
· Place to go for inspiration: Antarctica and Scott’s hut
· A great walk near where you live: Richmond Park’s Isabella Plantation
· Thing to collect obsessively: books
· Museum: V&A
· Favourite person to follow on Instagram: I don’t follow Instagram
· Garden in the UK: Chelsea Physic Garden
· Garden anywhere else: Torrecchia Vecchia, near Rome
Image of Alex: Justine Stoddard