Become an Herbalist

Herbalism is the plane where traditional medicine and botany meet. Herbalists advise patients on how to use certain plants and extracts to treat and prevent injury or disease, both physical and emotional. Though herbalism falls into the category of alternative or traditional medicine, proper training is just as important for those who practice it as it would be for professionals specializing in modern medicine. Herbalist programs provide the education herbalists need to practice the craft safely and effectively.

Herbalist program requirements/prerequisites

Herbalist programs are, in a word, variable. As the American Herbalists Guild notes, some programs focus on Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, while others approach studies from Western therapeutic point of view. Students can often complete their training on-campus, online or through apprenticeships. Whatever the case, most herbalist programs offer similar training. According to The College Board, many include basic medical and science courses, like anatomy and nutrition, plus additional training in areas like ethnobotany, harvesting and ethics.

Just as herbalist programs can differ so much from one school to the next, so can program requirements and prerequisites. While one program might require students to complete a round of classes over the course of just a few weeks or months, the next might require years of study plus hundreds of clinical hours. Those applying to entry-level certificate and undergraduate degree programs often need not have anything beyond a high school diploma and a passion for herbology, though a working understanding of biology is helpful. Those applying to more advanced herbalist programs, such as those designed for naturopathic physicians, may be required to have relevant undergraduate degrees. We recommend researching herbalist programs and schools extensively to learn more about a specific program's admissions and graduation requirements.

Herbalist necessary skills and qualifications

Herbalist programs can lead to a wide range of credentials, from postsecondary certificates to advanced degrees. Which is right for you depends on your career goals. Private herbalism consultants can often get by with a certificate or associate degree. Naturopathic physicians who practice herbalism, on the other hand, must typically earn advanced degrees in herbalism, or they must have degrees in related fields plus herbalist certifications.

Herbalist programs can often provide the technical know-how herbalists need to practice their craft, including how to identify, harvest and process plants in a way that is both safe and effective for patients. There are other skills and traits that can be helpful in the field, however, many of which might seem innate. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net, those working in natural medicine -- like acupuncturists and naturopathic physicians -- must exhibit listening, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills. They should also be service oriented and strong communicators.

Herbalist working environment

Many herbalists work in private practice or even out of their own homes, but some align themselves with larger practices, like TCM centers that offer a range of services, like acupuncture and herbal medicine. Whatever the setting, these professionals usually meet with patients and clients to discuss their overall health, diet and medical history. Some -- particularly naturopathic physicians who specialize in herbology -- may even physically examine patients. Herbalists then advise patients about herbal regimens that can improve or preserve their health, distributing or administering therapies as necessary. Many, but not all herbalists also grow and harvest their own herbs.

It can be difficult to say for certain how in-demand herbalists will be over the course of the next several years; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics includes herbalists in a broad category of professionals, providing no projections for these professionals specifically. On the plus side, O*Net reports that demand is growing for many naturopathic and TCM professionals. Acupuncturists and naturopathic physicians, for instance, are both classified as having "bright" outlooks, with a projected growth of 8 to 14 percent for each between 2012 and 2022. Formally trained and certified herbalists may have a competitive edge over lesser-trained colleagues, so it may help to invest in the right education.

Sources:

"Acupuncturists" U.S. Department of Labor, O*Net OnLine, 2013, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1199.01

"AHG Guide to Getting an Herbal Education," American Herbalist Guild, http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/herbal_education

"Major: Herbalism," The College Board, 2013, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-herbalism

"Naturopathic Physicians," U.S. Department of Labor, O*Net OnLine, 2013, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1199.04

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