Herbal Studies Degree Programs with Course Curriculum

Those hoping to use herbs to treat patients should expect to pursue a master's degree in herbal studies, herbalism or Oriental medicine. Learn about the master's programs, career options and continuing education in herbal studies.

Essential Information

Herbal studies degree programs are most widely available at the master's degree level. While some programs exist in therapeutic herbalism and herbal studies, the most common degree option is in Oriental medicine, which is often combined with acupuncture training.

Goals of a program might include helping students learn to diagnose ailments, evaluate patients, identify the necessary course of herbal treatment, prepare herbal remedies and administer herbal formulas correctly. Programs also usually aim to prepare students to recognize possible drug interactions and explain potential side effects. Experiential learning might take place in campus herb gardens or laboratories.

Master's in Herbal Studies

The most common education prerequisite for entry into a master's program in herbal studies is a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution; typically, the undergraduate major doesn't have to be in herbal studies. Schools also usually require a minimum grade point average on all previous college coursework. Letters describing personal interest in the discipline may also be requested. Most programs include an internship that allows students to become more familiar with herbal properties and creating herbal medicines through hands-on learning. Programs typically focus the curriculum on teaching students professional skills and providing a foundation of knowledge in herbology. The curriculum may also cover diseases, syndromes and other medical conditions. Courses may cover topics such as:

  • Herbal pharmacology
  • Herbal phytochemistry (metabolism and plant chemistry)
  • Herbal preparation techniques
  • Herbal treatment methods
  • Food therapy
  • Botany and horticulture

Popular Career Options

Many Oriental medicine programs prepare students to work in acupuncture or in other natural medicine professions. Graduates may also use what they learn in a program to apply to their current profession in a healthcare setting. Herbal studies degree-holders may also work in the natural products industry. Career choices include:

  • Herbal quality control
  • Research
  • Academia
  • Herb product development

Continuing Education

Herbal studies master's programs can prepare graduates for professional certification, and programs combined with acupuncture studies may also prepare graduates to become licensed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 40 states use the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine's (NCCAOM) exam to determine if an aspiring acupuncturist meets licensing status. For this exam, individuals must be 18 years old or older, meet education requirements, complete a clean-needle course and agree to a code of ethics.

Individuals who've completed the combined program may pursue the NCCAOM's Diplomate of Acupuncture board certification. Those with knowledge in both acupuncture and herbs, as well as graduates of herbal studies-only programs, may also voluntarily earn the Diplomate of Chinese Herbology designation, also through the NCCAOM. These are both nationally recognized credentials.

Degree programs in the area of herbal studies will be administered at the master's level. For acupuncurists, professional certification requires taking an exam.

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