Herbology: How Can I Become an Herbalist?

Learn the steps for becoming an herbalist. Research the job description, required education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career as an herbalist.

Should I Become an Herbalist?

An herbalist uses a variety of plants to foster health and healing. Many herbalists are also licensed practitioners of other disciplines, such as acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine or naturopathy. Most are self-employed and must spend considerable time seeking new clients. Many herbalists may find great reward in the act of helping others.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Graduate or professional degree for licensed health practitioners
Degree Field Traditional Chinese medicine, herbology, naturopathy, or related healthcare field in which herbs are used for healing
Licensure and Certification Licensure in a healthcare field is required to practice herbal medicine in some states
Experience Experience in the field is helpful
Key Skills Active listening, critical thinking, science, speaking, judgment and decision making, service orientation, active learning, computer skills and complex problem solving
Salary (2014) $49,430 (median annual salary for all unclassified healthcare practitioners)

Source: ONet Online, American Holistic Health Association, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and University of Maryland Medical Center

Step 1: Get a Bachelor's Degree

Depending on which career path an aspiring herbalist is seeking, there may be prerequisites for admission into educational programs. Some graduate and professional schools may require that students have completed a bachelor's degree program first. Aspiring herbalists may want to consider majoring in botany, biology or a related science.

Step 2: Complete an Herbology Training Program

For prospective herbalists, there are a variety of different herbal training programs from which to choose. If a career only advising clients is sought, schools offer workshops, self-study classes and non-degree programs that encompass training in herbology. Great care must be taken as an herbalist cannot diagnose conditions or prescribe treatment when acting in an advisory role.

If a career practicing herbal medicine is the ultimate goal where the herbalist can diagnose and prescribe herbs, students must undergo more intensive training. Graduate schools offer master's and doctoral degrees in TCM, with curricula that may include an introduction to botany and herbology, herbal treatment in dermatological diseases and integration of East/West medicine. Students interested in becoming N.D.s must complete a 4-year training program, taking courses such as botanical medicine, homeopathy and pharmacology. Allopathic physicians, who go to medical school to study traditional Western medicine, may seek board certification in complementary medicine that includes herbology through the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine.

Step 3: Get Licensed

In order to practice herbal medicine, an herbalist may need to be licensed in a particular healthcare field. Practitioners of TCM and naturopathy are regulated by many states. In states that offer licensure of these fields, requirements vary but often include passing a national or state licensing exam. All allopathic and osteopathic physicians in the U.S. must be licensed and can obtain licensure by passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination. Some states do not include the practice of Chinese Herbology as part of the scope of practice for TCM and require a separate test to be licensed to prescribe herbs.

Step 4: Become Certified

Voluntary certification may be available to herbalists who specialize in certain types of herbal medicine. In some cases, earning voluntary certification can open the door to new job opportunities. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) offers the Diplomate of Oriental Medicine (Dipl. O.M.) and Diplomate of Chinese Herbology (Dipl. C.H.) designations to candidates who complete formal education requirements and pass an exam. Certification through the NCCAOM is actually a prerequisite for licensure as a practitioner of TCM in some states.

The American Herbalists Guild (AHG) offers the Registered Herbalist (RH) designation to its members. Professional-level AHG membership is given to herbalists who provide three case studies and meet the requirements, which include four years of educational and clinical experience.

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