Preparing for a Career as a Professional Herbalist

Alternative medicine, once shunned by the medical profession as ineffective and even dangerous, has gained popularity and recognition in recent years as its effectiveness and safety have been scrutinized and validated. In particular, the use of natural herbs to treat various ailments has been approved by most medical practitioners as a beneficial supplement to or substitute for traditional pharmaceutical medications. Professional herbalists act as natural pharmacists, growing and dispensing useful plants to patients to assist them with ailments ranging from migraine to menstrual cramps and even psychological disorders like depression or bipolar disorder. While not every ailment responds well to herbal treatments, the field of herbal medicine continues to expand and trained and educated, certified herbalists are always in demand.

While no formal training is required for those who wish to grow herbs and sell them to dispensaries or professional healthcare workers, clinical and professional herbalists typically undergo a lengthy training period that covers many of the same subjects that pharmacists study during their educational process. Classes typically focus on the properties of medicinal herbs, methods of extraction and dosing, and the side effects and interactions between the active ingredients of the herbs and other medications and herbal remedies. Students also gain a broad understanding of the human physiological and anatomical structures including an overview of the main physical structures and organ systems. This offers a basis for diagnosis and a deeper understanding of the possible causes for the symptoms patients may be presenting. Herbal therapy classes combine the two areas, allowing students to gain hands-on experience in diagnosing and prescribing the right herbal remedies for the patients reported symptoms. Lastly, most coursework includes an herbal pharmaceutical class that allows students to practice what they’ve learned by producing herbal medicines based on established formulas and experimental work.

While there is currently no specific educational requirement for practicing herbalists, the American Herbalists Guild is working to create a basic standard for herbalist education that will provide standardized requirements and coursework to allow herbalists to attain certification. Many herbalism courses currently offer a certificate or degree, but since there is no oversight for these courses, the value of the certification or degree program is largely dependent on the institution offering such training. Herbalists can join the American Herbalists Guild either as a general member, which has no specific requirements, or as a professional member. Professional members must meet a number of exacting requirements including four years of training and clinical experience. This qualifies the herbalist for the professional title of Registered Herbalist, the highest current level of accreditation in the herbalism field.

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