Author, historian, and journalist Barbara Griggs died on January 20, 2022, at age 89. She is perhaps best known for her 1981 book Green Pharmacy: The History and Evolution of Western Herbal Medicine (Viking Press), a historical treatise that describes the growth of herbal medicine practices in Europe and North America. It often is considered one of the most comprehensive and accessible books on the subject.
Griggs was born on September 14, 1932, in Chipping Campden, England. She was the daughter of Frederick Landseer Griggs, an artist, and Nina Muir. After the deaths of Barbara’s father, older brother, and baby sister, her mother raised Barbara, the youngest, and her three sisters alone. The family was very close as a result, and Griggs maintained a deep love for her family throughout her life. Griggs studied English at the University of Birmingham and began a career in journalism in London, first at Vogue magazine and then as a columnist for the Express and London Evening Standard.
In 1969, Griggs met Henri van der Zee, a Dutch reporter and author who, at the time, was the London correspondent for the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. They married in 1970, and Griggs became the fashion editor at the Daily Mail that year. In 1972, her daughter Bibi was born, followed by her daughter Ninka in 1973.
Also in 1973, her first book, William and Mary (Knopf), a biography of William of Orange and Mary Stuart, which she wrote with Henri, was published under the name Barbara van der Zee. Barbara and Henri wrote two more books about Dutch history: A Sweet and Alien Land: The Story of Dutch New York (Viking Press, 1978) and 1688: Revolution in the Family (Penguin, 1988). Around that time, some of her work, including Bibi’s Cook Book (Allen and Unwin, 1976), was published under the name Barbara Griggs. She credited Bibi’s Cook Book, which includes recipes for babies and was named after her daughter, as the beginning of her interest in nutrition. That led to her studying natural wellness and herbal medicine. In 1980, she left her job as a journalist to be a full-time author.
When researching Green Pharmacy, Griggs’ process was extensive. She interviewed practitioners and other leaders in the United Kingdom. She also traveled to the United States to learn about Native American practices, their integration into the Eclectic herbal medicine practice, and how this knowledge was later integrated into UK traditions. She sat in on patient consultations, spoke with natural product manufacturers, and interviewed academics, teachers, and special collections librarians. The scope of her research is reflected in the topics covered in Green Pharmacy, starting from a Neanderthal burial and continuing through the Middle Ages and into the modern herbal movement. A second edition was published in 1997 (Healing Arts Press) with a new foreword by Michael McIntyre, a former president of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) in the United Kingdom, in addition to the first edition’s foreword by celebrated pharmacognosist Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD. Before her death, Griggs had been working on a third edition until her health prevented her from completing it.
Ann Walker, PhD, Griggs’ friend and fellow of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy (CPP), wrote: “Green Pharmacy is the work of a unique mind that can piece together disparate threads across many disciplines into a cohesive whole. She tells a good story, no doubt drawing on her journalistic skills. It’s a story ratified by the many she consulted [and] will remain the definitive text on the history of Western herbal medicine.”1
Griggs’ other notable publications about herbal medicine and nutrition include The Home Herbal: A Handbook of Simple Remedies (Pan Books, 1983), The Food Factor: Why We Are What We Eat (Viking, 1987), the Superfoods series, which she wrote with Michael van Straten (DK Publishing), and The Green Witch: A Modern Women’s Herbal (Random Century, 1993).
In 1986, Griggs became a contributing health writer of Country Living magazine. She remained a contributing health writer until 1993, when she became the contributing health editor. She held that position until 2006. The family moved to Rome in 1986 for Henri’s job, and a few years later, her daughter Ninka was diagnosed with leukemia. Ninka died in 1992 at age 18. Bibi van der Zee credited her mother’s devotion to her work and love of her family with getting her through the tragedy of Ninka’s death.2
Many organizations honored Griggs for her work, and she was named an associate member of CPP and a lifetime honorary member of NIMH. She is remembered for her sense of humor, intelligence, and devotion to her family and community. Her volunteerism in her local Brighton, England, community included preparing meals for the homeless shelter and running communal gardens. She was also a loving grandmother.
Simon Mills, a leader in the UK herbal community and fellow of NIMH, wrote (email, August 18, 2022): “When we were building the new UK herbal practitioner community in the early 1980s, Barbara became our chronicler. She arrived in our midst as a well-known journalist who wanted to understand this revived interest in herbs. Part of her work in writing Green Pharmacy was to hole up for weeks in the attic of Hein Zeylstra’s School of Herbal Medicine in Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells, England, where all the NIMH archives were stored. We quickly adopted her book as our default version of history, even more so when she produced a more current second edition.
“Some years later, on a Christmas break in Nerja in southern Spain, my wife and I were delighted to find we were sharing our resort with Barbara,” Mills added. “We had some wonderful days idly catching up with the state of the world, and we were friends thereafter. Although not a practitioner, Barbara would regularly attend the professional conferences of the CPP and was a particular fan of ‘practitioner’s practitioner’ Kerry Bone. Her undiminished joy in the herbal world was truly infectious!”
Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, wrote (email, August 17, 2022): “Barbara’s book Green Pharmacy is the seminal book on the history of European herbal medicine. In my view, it should be required reading in all herb schools that deal with the Western herbal medicine tradition. I will always be grateful to her for her very kind inclusion of the educational role of HerbalGram as part of her discussion of the modern herbal movement in the United States.
“On a more personal note, I had the opportunity to meet Barbara when I was in Nottingham, England, in 2014 to give one of the keynotes at the 150th anniversary conference of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists,” Blumenthal added. “She graciously invited me to lunch, just the two of us, and, to this day, our vivid and engaging conversation is one of my key memories of that event.”
Barbara Griggs is preceded in death by her parents, Frederick and Nina; sisters Lucy and Marjory; brother John; daughter Ninka; and former husband Henri. She is survived by her daughter Bibi (Mike); grandsons Sam, Ben, and Joe; and sisters Mia and Hooda.
- Barbara Griggs (14 September 1932 – 20 January 2022). College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy website. Available at: https://thecpp.uk/barbara-griggs/. Accessed July 28, 2022.
- van der Zee B. Barbara van der Zee Obituary. The Guardian. May 19, 2022. Available at: www.theguardian.com/books/2022/may/19/barbara-van-der-zee-obituary. Accessed July 28, 2022.