Barbara van der Zee obituary

·2 min read

My mother, Barbara van der Zee, who has died aged 88, was a journalist and author who wrote about fashion, history, plant medicine and nutrition. Despite many sadnesses in her life, including the death of her younger daughter from leukaemia in 1992, her lovely smile and enthusiasm for life and her family were a source of infectious happiness for everyone who knew her.

She was born in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, the youngest of five children of the artist FL Griggs and his wife, Nina (nee Muir). After studying English literature at Birmingham University, Barbara began work at Vogue under Audrey Withers, moved on to the Express and the London Evening Standard, and then became fashion editor at the Daily Mail.

In 1969, she met Henri van der Zee, at that time the London correspondent of the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, and they married the following year. I was born in 1972, and my sister, Ninka, in 1973, and they began to write history books together: William and Mary, about the extraordinary and yet little known events of 1688, was published in 1973, and A Sweet and Alien Land, the story of Dutch New York, in 1978.

By 1980, after an exhausting decade, my mother decided to leave journalism and focus on books and the topics of nutrition and herbal medicine, which she found increasingly interesting. In 1981 she published Green Pharmacy, a history of herbal medicine, which explored the natural lineage of modern pharmacology, following this with The Home Herbal (1983), and The Food Factor (1987), a look at the history of nutrition in the 20th century. From 1990 onwards she also wrote the Superfoods books in partnership with her friend Michael van Straten.

In 1992 Ninka died of leukaemia, aged 18. But despite this, my mother managed to find some happiness again. Work was always a source of tremendous comfort to her: for many years she was the health editor at Country Living, and in 2005 the National Institute of Medical Herbalists made her a lifetime honorary member, of which she was very proud.

Despite separating from my father, who died in 2014, she always found her family a huge source of joy and laughter. From 2005 onwards my mother lived with me and my husband, and played a huge role in the childhood of our three sons, Sam, Ben and Joe, in our home in Brighton. “Baba”, as she was known by the boys, is survived by us, and by her sisters, Mia and Hooda.

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