Hilda Leyel (also known as Mrs C F Leyel) was an expert on herbalism and founded the Society of Herbalists (now known as the Herb Society)
Leyel developed a love of herbs and flowers at a young age, and after completing her education at Uppingham School went on to study medicine. She developed an interest in herbalism, studying the work of herbalists includlng Nicholas Culpeper.
In 1922, Leyel was prosecuted for running the Golden Ballot, a charity which raised money for ex-servicemen and hospitals. Her acquittal helped to establish the legality of such ballots. She was elected a life governor of St Mary’s, the West London, and the Royal National Orthopaedic hospitals.
In 1926, Leyel wrote The Magic of Herbs using the name Mrs. C.F. Leyel. A year later, she opened Culpeper House on Baker Street, which sold herbal medicine, food and cosmetics, aiming “to give people a taste for the wholesome and natural things of the earth.” She grew her business to a total of ten shops in spa cities like Bath and Harrogate.
Leyel was so dedicated to the promotion of herbalism that she started the Society of Herbalists, a non-profit organization dedicated for the study and application of herbalism which helped to encourage a revival in the popularity of herbs in the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1931, Leyel edited Mrs M Grieve’s A Modern Herbal. She continued to educate others about herbs, publishing books including Herbal Delights (1937), Compassionate Herbs (1946), Elixirs of Life (1948), Hearts-Ease (1949), Green Medicine (1952), and Cinquefoil (1957), as well as others on cooking.
In 1941, the Society of Herbalists was threatened by the Pharmacy and Medicines Bill, which would have destroyed Leyel’s work. With the support of her influential friends, Leyel’s society was saved as the bill was modified to enable patients to obtain treatment upon joining the society. Leyel also joined Sir Albert Howard in his campaign for compost versus synthetic fertilizers.
During her lifetime, Leyel became a fellow of the Royal Instituion, an officer of l’Académie française, and a recipient of the Palmes académiques of France. Her work to increase the understanding and use of herbs for health and well-being and to bring together all those with an interest in herbs continues through the Herb Society.