How to Become an Herbalist

Kelly Hopper

Kelly is a Chicago-based writer with an educational background in mass communication, digital content marketing, and creative writing. Her 20 years as a business owner and operations consultant provides unique insights through storytelling and brand journalism techniques.

Young woman preparing herbs and flowers.

What do grandma, ancient Egyptians, and a Nobel Prize winner have in common? A shared belief in the power of herbs. People have been using plants for therapeutic purposes for over 5,000 years. Whether it’s using aloe to soothe a sunburn, eating sliced ginger to calm a sour stomach, or putting tea bags on your eyes to reduce puffiness, most people partake in one form of herbal remedy or another.

Are you ready to join an industry that has universal public appeal and an ever-increasing audience base? Are you searching for a rewarding career where you can make a real difference in people’s lives? Learn how to become an herbalist and discover how you can help people look and smell good, feel healthy, and possibly live longer.

Overview: What is an herbalist?

An herbalist is someone who uses plants for healing. Although they aren’t medical doctors, they attempt to find the root cause of an illness or ailment and choose herbal remedies based on a patient’s symptoms. After performing clinical exams and inspecting areas of the body, they create a personalized treatment plan which might include one or more herbal supplements. Some common forms of treatment include:

  • Teas
  • Oils
  • Bath salts
  • Ointments
  • Lotions
  • Liquid or powdered herbs in capsule form

Why people see herbalists

While herbalists shouldn’t replace medical doctors or mental health professionals for patients suffering from severe conditions, they can offer complementary treatment solutions. Other people seek out herbalists for less critical issues like:

  • Pain reduction
  • Advice on lifestyle habits
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Allergies
  • Skin rashes/disorders
  • Stress management
  • Digestive issues
  • Anti-aging remedies

A short history of herbal remedies

Over 5,000 years ago, the Sumerians in Mesopotamia1 carved a dozen herbal recipes onto clay tablets. For thousands of years, people have relied on powders, teas, tinctures, and skin creams to help treat everything from dermatitides to mild depression. Listed below are some herbal remedies used by individuals:

  • Ametuer practitioners: Most people have grandparents or relatives who pass on various herbal home remedies like aloe for burns, oatmeal baths for itchy irritated skin, or honey for stubborn coughs. Many large manufacturers base their products on these home cures.
  • Ancient Egyptians: Records dating back to 1500 BCE show that ancient Egyptians cared deeply about their health and wellbeing. They took a holistic approach to their medical care using garlic to protect against disease, cumin for flatulence, and figs as a laxative.
  • Nobel Prize recipient: Although Chinese chemist Tu Youyou never got a Ph.D., she spent her life studying early Chinese medical texts, leading her to find that properties in wormwood cured Malaria. Her discovery saved millions of lives and won her the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Herbalism began a resurgence in the 1960s, and its acceptance has slowly gained momentum over the decades. Herbs have entered conventional medicine as part of a holistic approach to healthcare. They are available not only in grocery stores and apothecary shelves but also in our gardens and backyards!

Steps to becoming an herbalist

The field of herbalism is mostly unregulated in the United States, so you can become an herbalist without a license or certificate and legally charge for your services. However, if you want to gain employment or start a business as an herbalist, you’ll need credibility. The best way to gain credibility is through education, training, and experience.

Education

You can start your education in herbal medicine slowly with online self-study courses. When you’re ready to become a practicing herbalist, the American Herbalists Guild recommends at least 800 hours of self-study and an accredited university program, and 400-hours of clinical training. The organization course load recommendations include:

  • Basic Human Sciences (150 hours): Learn anatomy, physiology, pathology, and biochemistry through self-study or accredited courses.
  • Nutrition and Medical terminology (80 hours): Learn nutrition and medical terminology through self-study or accredited nutrition courses.
  • Materia Medica (260 hours): Botanical names, families and parts, phytoconstituents, therapeutics, preparations, dosing, and interactions.
  • History (120 hours): Philosophy and therapeutic paradigms and applications including energetics of various systems of herbal medicine:
  • Pharmacy, Pharmacognosy, and Dispensing (80 hours): Principles of medicine making, pharmacology, herbal formulation, and administration.
  • Botany and Plant Science (60 hours): Basic botany and field identification, recognizing common herbs and related toxic species.
  • Current evidence-based botanical research (20 hours): Learn the evaluation of research into medicinal plants and their clinical use.
  • Practice management and ethics (30 hours): Ethics, record keeping, professional networking, the scope of practice, and legal issues.

Some basic educational programs in herbal studies cost around $400 to $2,500 for part-time. A full-time course load costs about $5,000 to $45,000 per year, depending on the school.

Training

There’s a reason why doctors are required to complete a residency program before becoming certified physicians. Training as an herbalist is just as necessary as it gives you a real-world education but the safety net of supervision. You can work out the kinks before venturing out on your own. Time training as an herbalist should include the following activities:

  • Client intake skills
  • Physical and differential assessment
  • Constitutional analysis
  • Basic laboratory test interpretation
  • Application of herbal energetics
  • Dosing strategies
  • Client record keeping
  • HIPAA, coaching techniques
  • Diet and nutrition planning

Experience

Gain experience by working for an established herbalist, doctor, chiropractor, or nutritionist. Joining professional organizations will establish your credibility and help you find a mentor, and provide employment opportunities.

The American Herbalists Guild (AHG) is a respected organization that promotes clinical herbalism as a viable profession. They offer a designation of “registered herbalist,” which you can get through a rigorous application process. This title doesn’t give you any legal rights, but it is an industry-standard that reflects knowledge in the field of herbalism and establishes more credibility.

Liability and legalize for an herbalist

Even though herbalism is unregulated, herbalists still need to adhere to a code of conduct.

  • Herbalists cannot diagnose, prescribe, or treat patients.
  • Herbalists can recommend, educate about, and dispense specific herbs.

These things might sound similar, but the distinctions are key—they protect herbal practitioners, guide their actions, and allow clients to be more involved in their healing process.

How to get a job as an herbalist

Once you complete an education program, formal training, and register with AHG, it’s time to get working. Career opportunities for herbalists include:

  • Clinical herbalist: Work in private practice, clinic or link your services with acupuncturists, chiropractors, physicians, or massage therapists who use herbal medicine in their business.
  • Make herbal products: Make herbal tinctures, teas, honey, elixirs, or oils and sell them to retail shops. Or specialized products for animals or children.
  • Retail and sales: Open a brick and mortar or online herbal store. Become a sales rep and work for a company selling their products to retailers.
  • Education: Teach as an herbal educator at a college or for an accredited program. Speak at herbal conferences or create herbal workshops for children and adults.
  • Writer: Share your herbal knowledge by writing books, blogs, and articles about medicinal gardening, teas, wild foods, or therapeutics. Then sell them online.
  • Farming and wildcrafting: Grow or pick herbs to sell in retail or wholesale markets. Create medicinal, apothecary, or body care products. Medicinal seed company.
  • Herbal research: Work as a herbalist for the government, universities, or corporations performing clinical trials, studies, and testing.

Other job possibilities for an herbalist

  • Host an herbal conference
  • Organize classes or seminars
  • Herbal photography and art, botanical-based products
  • Hosting an herbal podcast

How much do herbalists make?

There’s a wide range of possible earnings for herbalists. Clinical herbalists earn around $50 to $100 per hour and herbal educators around $30 to $120 per hour (more for expertise in specialized areas). Things that will determine your future earning potential are:

  • Career choice
  • Skillset
  • Time you work
  • Where you live

It can take time to achieve your ideal salary. The more you develop your credentials and reputation, build a client base, and expand your reach, you will increase your earnings.

Get started as an herbalist today

Herbalist’s expanding field offers a wide variety of career opportunities, whether you want to work in research, academia, clinical practice, or create an original product line. If you’re interested in holistic natural therapies and traditional remedies, then working as an herbalist might be right for you.

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