History of Herbal Medicine

Thomas Bartram: medical herbalist, homeopath, naturopath and osteopath. He lived and worked in Christchurch, Dorset and was a Fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, the Royal Society of Health and the Health Food Institute.

Born on the 14


July 1912 in Norwich, his first job was at Smith’s the Chemist. He met his wife Marjorie in the church choir when he was 16 and she was 14 and they married in 1937 when he was 24 yrs old.

Bartram worked in hospital administration for 17 years before embarking on a thriving career in complementary medicine which lasted for 40 years.

A devout Christian, he loved music and was an accomplished pianist who produced 2 CDs. He was greatly loved for his compassion. His life was an example to others and people trusted and respected him because he practiced what he preached.

He became the editor of ‘Health for Herbs’, the journal of NIMH and then in Spring 1960 he launched Grace Magazine which he continued to edit for 49 years.

He founded Gerard House in 1958, a company that produced herbal remedies that Bartrum had used successfully in his practice. His vision was to ensure that the public were educated about herbal medicine and were able to buy safe alternatives to orthodox medication.

Bartram is most well-known for his comprehensive reference book called Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. The book took him 15 years to put together and was first published by Grace Publishers in 1995 and a second edition came out in 1998. His first book however, published in 1984 was Nature’s Plan for Your Health, which offered recommendations towards a healthy lifestyle.

A quarterly publication, Grace Magazine was produced continuously from Spring 1960 through to the final issue this Winter 2018.

In January 2002 he published ‘While The Kettle Boils’ with the subtitle: ‘To help us to live’: a selection of letters and quotations by Grace magazine readers taken from the magazine over a 40 year period. He also wrote The Wonder of Honey, Grace at Table and Sincere Sympathy.

Bartram’s Encyclopedia is an incredibly comprehensive collection of short encyclopedic-style entries. It’s an easy to use guide and very practical in its tone.

His inspiration to compile his A – Z: the huge demand for natural medicines and consequently for reliable information and his belief that Herbal medicine should sit alongside orthodox medicine.

He introduces readers to the fact that herbs contain a whole host of constituents to combat disease and build vitality and is not afraid to discuss the use of herbs for contagious and infectious diseases in the understand that they may not be curative but work supportively alongside orthodox treatment.  He presents Herbalism as a science in its own right with its own unique rationale and efficacy.

He writes of his indebtedness to his ‘distinguished mentor, Edgar Gerald Jones of Mansfield, a medical herbalist, osteopath, Christian, writer and naturopath, who evidently inspired Bartrum to follow in his path.

Other influences include NIMH where he served as a council member for many years, The British Herbal Medicine Association and its publications, The British Herbal Pharmacopoeias of 1983 and 1990, ancient and modern herbalism and Samuel Thomson, (1769 – 1843) with his heroic prescribing and highly practical and simple methods. conditions containing Myrrh and Capsicum which would have packed a punch!

Other influences included the Eclectics Wooster Beech and Finley Ellingwood.

Bartrum’s A-Z contains highly specific advice and historical references on a myriad of different subjects. For each disease entry he generally has a definition followed by symptoms, conventional treatment, herbal treatment and dietary and exercise suggestions: garlic for Bubonic Plague, Poke root juice for cancerous breast tissue and Fennel and Chamomile tea for Contact Lens Fatigue!

He includes entries on What the Law Requires of the Herbal Practitioner, developments in the herbal world, places of interest such as Chelsea Physic Garden, drugs, associations, herbs, herbalists, notable books etc…

His dosages in some cases are quite significantly higher than those recommended today eg. 5-15ml of a 1:5 45% tincture of Jamaica Dogwood three times a day and this has caused his book to be treated with some caution.

His books demonstrate an active, curious mind, phenomenal reading and research and a gentleness and humility which underlies his words.

Bartram’s character and Christian ethos shine through as does his infectious enthusiasm to promote the healing power of herbs and nutrition coupled with a boundless sense of passion to educate the public.

In Natures Plan for Your HealthBartrum gives detailed, user-friendly advice on lifestyle, written in the belief that ‘a gram of prevention is worth a ton of cure’.

His Grace magazine is a quarterly Christian publication which focuses on health and spiritual growth. His readers became his ‘Grace Family’ and their recipes, anecdotes, poems and prayers filled the magazines pages whilst Bartrum, as editor, added comments and suggestions here and there. The final issue came out this Winter 2018.

The general feeling among the herbalists I spoke to about Bartram was that his work was not referenced adequately, that his dosage was often very high and that his Encyclopedia encouraged symptomatic prescribing. There was a consensus however, that his book was a useful reference point for qualified herbalists.

My picture of Bartram is of a well-meaning, studious and utterly dedicated man: a quiet but strong character whose strength lay in his words and whose most important relationships were with his own family, his patients and his Grace Family. Despite the lack of references for some of his information and his tendency to heroic prescriptions a la Thomson, his work makes for rich reading and prompts further investigation.

Herbal medicine was  Bartram’s but passion which coupled with his unswerving Christianity, ignited in him the desire to spread the word and bring healing and hope to as many people as he could possibly reach.

And finally, why Gandalf? Simply because he was a good man with a white beard who practiced an ancient art that many find magical and which, judging from the complexities of plant constituents which continue to defy the understanding of the greatest scientific minds of our day, is truly mystical.


  • Barker, J. (2018) Email to Sarah Hitchens, 1


  • Bartram, T. (1998)

    Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine

    . 2


    edn. London: Robinson Publishing Ltd
  • Bartram, T. (2002)

    While the Kettle Boils

    . Christchurch: Grace Publishers
  • Bartram, T. (2005)

    Bartram’s Nature’s Plan for Your Health

    . 3


    edn. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd
  • Bartram, T. (2009)


    . Spring edn. Christchurch: Grace Publishers
  • Bartram, T. (2018)


    . Winter edn. Christchurch: Grace Publishers
  • Brice-Ytsema, H. (2018) Email to Sarah Hitchens, 19


  • Brice-Ytsema, H & Watkins, F. (2014)

    Herbal Exchanges in celebration of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists 1864 – 2014.

    London: Strathmore Publishing Ltd
  • Cheshire, A. (2018) Telephone conversation with Sarah Hitchens, 4


  • Chevallier, A. (2016) Encylopedia of Herbal Medicine. 3


    edn. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited
  • Chevallier, A. (2018) Email to Sarah Hitchens, 26


  • Concordant Publishing Concern (2018)

    Other Co Labourers in Christ

    . (online) Available at


    (Accessed: 3


    January 2018)
  • Foulon, L. (2018) Email to Sarah Hitchens, 9



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