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Become an Herbalist

By Ashley Boyce, an allied health world staff writer

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In a conversation with herbal pharmacist, Michele Milligan, Allied Health World learned what is involved in preparing for a career in herbalism. Through her first hand perspective, Michele recounts the steps she has taken in recent years to become educated in herbal science pursuant to her career working in an herbal pharmacy:

Steps to becoming an herbalist:

  1. The journey begins with independent research and experimentation: If you’re interested in knowing how to become an herbalist you should make use of medicinal herbs yourself and note the affects. Purchase a book that will help you identify herbs and begin wildcrafting, or harvesting them from nature yourself.
  2. Thoroughly explore the many aspects of a career in medicinal herbalism through research and exposure. This will help you determine if you want to grow, formulate and make tinctures, consult, own an herb shop or pharmacy, or be involved in scientific research. This type of exposure can be gained by spending time growing herbs yourself, speaking with practicing herbalists who work in various capacities, and spending some time in an herb shop or herbal pharmacy.
  3. Begin formal training in the identification and applied use of medicinal herbs by entering a certificate program.
  4. Pursue higher-level certificate programs or degree programs electively to further enrich your knowledge of herbs while creating more career opportunities.
  5. Begin an independent practice, grow operation, or open your own herb shop. If an independent practice isn’t appealing to you, pursue employment in an herb shop, herbal pharmacy, natural medical clinic, or herb farm.

What are the character traits of a good herbalist?

When we spoke with Michele Milligan, who has earned a Bachelors Degree in Herbal Science and who works in an herbal pharmacy, she expressed to us the nature of those individuals who are drawn to herbalism: “Someone who works in herbs is become an herbalistsomeone who wants to heal people. You get to know the plants, and once you know what the plant does for people how can you not share that knowledge. Most of the people I’ve seen come into this profession really have a need to help people feel better. It’s the same as people who want to become a nurse or a doctor, it’s just a different relationship and it’s different medicine.”

Referring to the growing, harvesting, and production side of the business, which she has also been involved in, Michele went on to say, “It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding to me. I don’t feel like it’s work.”

How might one decide a career in herbalism is right for them?

An initial interest in an herbalist career in will always start with a personal affinity for natural methods of health and wellness, which will very often become solidified by personal experience. When we spoke with herbal pharmacist, Michele Milligan, she explained how her personal experience with successfully treating her own colds with herbal remedies, coupled with the chance meeting of an accomplished herbalist, ultimately blossomed into her own career in herbalism:

“I first got into herbs when I was 18 after trying this vitamin mix with herbs. Whenever I got sick, because I was working in restaurants, I would take it and my cold would go away in a day.” Michele went on to describe the polarizing affect conventional medicine had in supporting her interest in more natural methods, “I had a bad reaction once going to the doctor, taking an antibiotic, so I really got into herbs. I started reading the label of herbal supplements I was taking to see what was in the bottle. I found Echinacea and golden seal, those were big ones back in the early 90’s. I started slowly studying the herbs, I came across some books from a used bookstore and I would always tell my family what they needed when they got sick. At first it was kind of a side thing that I studied.”

As is often spoke of by people who follow a serendipitous approach to life, coincidence gives way to kismet and opportunities arise. Michele explained how this happened in her own life, “I answered an add for a nanny job working for an herbalist. I ended up learning a lot from him and taking a class he offered. Some months later I ended up managing his company. I started to learn more about the business side of herbs and more of the ways in which they are used.”

Why Herbalism?

When Allied Health World asked herbal scientist, Michele Milligan, why she chose to pursue herbalist training she explained how her decision has made her work-life fun and dynamic: “I’m so thankful for this job and glad I chose this path, because I can do multiple things. I can teach. I can work in an herbal store. I can consult. I can grow, and I can formulate and make tinctures too. I like things to keep growing, and going, and evolving.”

Michele went on to explain how the deep heritage of herbalism and ubiquitous nature of medicinal herbs has compelled her to become a practitioner, “It’s representative of what we were and what was natural; it goes back to the Egyptians, and the ancient Greeks, and Avicenna; the history is so rich. There are formulas out there that can treat chronic conditions. You can find everything to heal yourself right in the area in which you live.”

How does an aspiring herbalist get started?

When we asked herbal scientist, Michele Milligan, what advice she would offer to aspiring herbalists she responded exuberantly: “Start growing whatever you can to learn about how plants grow. Get an herbal book from a store and start making teas and testing them, and see how it feels. Do you feel it working? Self-experiment. It is usually this scientific minded person that is drawn to herbs. You have to experiment on yourself to see how it feels before you can tell someone else to take it.”

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