Barbara Griggs (14 September 1932 – 20 January 2022)

The CPP Council is very sad to have to inform you of the passing of Barbara Griggs, an Associate Member of the CPP.  Barbara was a journalist and prolific writer in the field of Herbal Medicine.  She has published many books about herbal medicine, but is probably best known for her landmark book, Green Pharmacy, that eloquently detailed the history of Herbal Medicine from the prehistoric time to the present.  This book remains an irreplaceable source of knowledge for students and practitioners.

Barbara was a dear friend to the CPP and always attended our CPD seminars, where she often contributed supportive words of wisdom and advice.  Barbara’s wicked sense of humour, intelligence, enquiring mind and friendship will be greatly missed by all who knew her.

Photo of Barbara

Obituary written by Barbara Griggs’ daughter, Bibi.

Barbara Blanche Griggs was born in 1932 in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. Her father was the artist Frederick Landseer Griggs, always referred to as Da. Her mother was Nina Muir. Mum was the youngest of five – a sixth child, Lucy, died shortly after her birth. Her father died, when she was five, and Nina was left to bring up the large brood. A few years later, even more sadly, John, the oldest son, was killed at Anzio in Italy during the beachheads of the second world war.

The remaining sisters – Marjory, Mia, Hooda and mum – and Nina were incredibly close. Mum headed off to school and then to university and then into the working world, ending up on Fleet Street, where she became a successful columnist at the Express and Evening Standard. In 1969 she met my father, Henri van der Zee, at that time the London correspondent of the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, and they got married pretty quickly. Sooner afterwards Mum became fashion editor at the Daily Mail. I came along in 1972, and my sister Ninka in 1973.

My parents wrote a number of history books jointly: William and Mary, about the Dutch prince who became king of Britain, was published in 1973, and A Sweet and Alien Land, the story of Dutch New York in 1978.

At the same time she was also publishing under her professional name of Barbara Griggs: Bibi’s cookbook, a recipe book for babies, came out in 1976. This is where she dated the beginnings of her interest in nutrition: in the introduction she discusses what a good diet looks like – “fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, eggs, yogurt, and wholemeal bread” – and warns, in particular, against sugar and the myth that babies ‘prefer’ it. “Bibi, for instance,
cheerfully starts her day with milk and grated fresh fruit, likes plain yoghurt … and has even been known to pick up a lemon and chew on it, although making the most extraordinary faces while doing so.” Nouveau Poor, or how to live better on less, written with her friend Shirley Lowe, came out the same year.

In 1980, after an exhausting decade, my mother wanted to make a change and explore her growing interest in herbal and complementary medicines. She left her job, and in 1981 she published Green Pharmacy, a history of herbal medicine, which explored the natural lineage of modern pharmacology, and looked at the way in which medicine turned its back on its roots. She followed this with the Home Herbal in 1983, and then the Food Factor in 1987, a
fascinating look at the history of nutrition in the 20th century – both the scientists who tried to explore what our bodies really needed, and the vested interests which tried to slow them down. In 1990 she began a series of books with Michael van Straten called Superfoods, which highlighted the powerful nutritional value of eating fresh unprocessed food – particularly fruit and vegetables while reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates.

In 1986 we had moved to Rome, where, a few years later, my sister became ill, and eventually died of leukaemia. But despite this, my mother did manage to find a way to find some happiness again. Work was always a source of tremendous happiness and comfort to her: for many happy years she was the health editor at Country Living, and also published several more books, including Reinventing Eden in 2001 which broadened her focus to environmental issues. In 2005 the National Institute of Medical Herbalists made her a lifetime honorary member, of which she was very proud.

In 2001, after I had met Mike, the boys came along, Sam, Ben and Joe, and in 2005 my parents moved to Brighton to live with us. Mum absolutely doted on Mike, loving buying him Christmas jumpers – “he’s such a good shape, darling” – and making dinners that he loved. And she doted, equally, on the children who all grew up used to having a devoted ‘Baba’ on hand. Ben remembers drawing with her, and Sam vividly remembers the bagatelle board she kept in her flat for their entertainment, and a full set of the Orlando books which she would read them. I have a particularly keen memory of her youngest grandson Joe standing on the stairs in nothing but his nappy, hollering Baba at the top of his voice, confident that she would shortly come running. As she did. My father sadly passed away in 2013.

She absolutely loved Brighton. Every day she’d pick up her paper from her beloved Tony, then go and get coffee from Nigel in the Open Market. She attended St Peter’s, and we’ve been overwhelmed by the love and support from the congregation, of which she was obviously a really loved part. She also served on the Park Crescent committee which runs our communal gardens – a fearful responsibility as anyone who has done it knows. One friend who served on the committee with her told me she made it ‘almost bearable’ which is an extraordinary compliment. She loved the sense of community and purpose and she absolutely flourished – I remember her feeding my children before knocking out two huge trays of lasagne for a local homeless shelter. And she continued to work, attending conferences, giving speeches, and always reading and researching. Only a couple of years before her death she was very excitedly researching a new edition of Green Pharmacy which would take in the most recent developments. Sadly, health concerns overtook her ability to continue working, and she had to give up the work.

I’ve learnt so many things from her. The importance of kindness and humility. The joy of work. How interesting the world is. My parents taught me that sitting round a table with good food and good wine and family and friends and good conversation is the best haven and the best and most important thing in the world. She is very much missed.

Obituary written by Dr Ann Walker, PhD, FCPP.

Barbara Griggs died last month. I first got to know Barbara as the author of Green Pharmacy – A History of Herbal Medicine. It was a recommended text in my studies of herbal medicine whilst training to be a practitioner in the 1990’s. Sometime later, I was fortunate to meet her and later to count her as a friend. For several years before the Covid pandemic I sat next to her at seminars of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy in London. Barbara was an honorary member, as she was of other professional herbal bodies, being lauded among them for her promulgation of the value of herbal medicine.

Barbara started life as a journalist and moved into writing books on natural medicine, but Green Pharmacy is by far and away her masterpiece. It traces the origins of the use of herbal medicine from the earliest records of humankind though various cultures to the present day. Barbara was a writer particularly admired for her meticulous research. But for Green Pharmacy and in the days before Google Search, Barbara quite literally did the footwork – meeting key herbalists not only in the UK but further afield, including the United States. In the US she got first-hand information from those familiar with American Indian medicine and its development into the Eclectic movement, which was later incorporated into British herbal practice. She consulted herbal manufacturers, she attended patient consultations with the renowned herbalist John Hyde. She consulted academics, newspaper medical correspondents, teachers and librarians in charge of special collections – in fact she tracked down anyone who might reveal information on herbal medicine.

In her introduction to the Green Pharmacy Barbara says “I am aware that had I been a qualified pharmacognosist and pharmacist, an anthropologist, a historian and an expert practitioner of herbal medicine, this would have been a vastly better and more authoritative book, free of the shortcomings which may be found in it.” I don’t agree – this 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, which will remain the definitive text on the history of Western Herbal Medicine.

Being a strong advocate of herbal medicine, Barbara, in scattered phrases through all her works appeared to take side-ways strikes at the medical profession, but discord was far from her intention. Rather she looked forward to a time where the Pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession in general would accept their limitations and take an open-minded view to embrace the value of traditional herbal medicine. In other words, to yield a place for the practice of herbal medicine in a modern world, particularly in relation to complex medical conditions, which are on the rise. She imagined a true integration of knowledge and talent for the benefit of humankind. The herbal world salutes you, Barbara. It was a job well done. May you rest in peace.