Education and Training for Herbalists

Training and education requirements for herbalists vary throughout the world. In the United States, herbalists are licensed by the state in which they practice herbal medicine.

Many herbalists receive their training through classes, workshops, and apprenticeships conducted by other herbalists. Naturopathic and chiropractic colleges, schools of acupuncture, and some medical colleges also offer classes in herbal medicine. Most herbal medicine programs include training in traditional uses for herbs, basic medical science (e.g., biochemistry, nutrition, anatomy), and diagnosis and treatment.

The American Herbalists Guild (AHG), the American Botanical Council, and other herbal medicine organizations provide additional information about herbal medicine education, training, and licensure. Practitioners that are licensed in herbal medicine may apply for membership in a professional organization, such as the AHG.

Applicants must have at least 3 years of experience in herbal medicine and must submit information about their experience and training, complete a questionnaire, and provide at least 3 letters of reference from other licensed herbalists. The American Herbalists Guild maintains professional standards for its members, including a code of ethics and a continuing education program.

Herbal practitioners may be naturopathic physicians, medical or traditional herbalists (e.g., Ayurveda [type of medicine native to India, "the science of life"] practitioners, Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM] practitioners), native healers (e.g., Native American, African), acupuncturists, chiropractors, midwives, herbal pharmacists, scientists, or researchers. Titles that may be earned by licensed herbalists include the following:

  • R.H. (Registered Herbalist; AGH)
  • M.C.P.P. Member (College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy)
  • F.N.I.M.H. (Fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists)
  • M.N.I.M.H. Member (Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists)
  • L.Ac. (Licensed Acupuncturist)
  • O.M.D. (Doctor of Oriental Medicine)
  • Dip. C.H. (Diplomate of Chinese Herbology; National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists)
  • D.Av. (Diplomate in Ayurvedic Health Sciences; American Ayurvedic Association)

During the initial visit, herbal practitioners often ask patients about their family and personal medical history, their current health history (including any symptoms), and their diet and lifestyle. Using this information, the herbalist then works with each patient to develop an individual treatment plan. Some herbalists use standard diagnosis and treatment systems and some develop treatments based on their knowledge and experiences.

Herbalists consider many factors when recommending herbal supplements. These factors include the patient's overall health; the severity of the illness or medical condition and length of time the condition has been present; and the method of administration, combination, and dosage of the herb(s).

Certain herbalists (called herbal farmers and wild crafters) grow, harvest, and process herbs into teas, syrups, and other herbal products. Herbal preparations include tinctures (extracts from fresh herbs), compresses (herbal mixtures that are applied with pressure), poultices (herbal mixtures that are applied topically), and salves (medicinal ointments made from plants and herbs). In many cases, the success of herbal medicine depends on how closely the patient follows his or her treatment plan.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 30 Jul 2009

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2011