The American Herbalists Guild (AGH) defines herbalists as those who primarily use medicinal plants to treat a variety of ailments, disorders and diseases. Herbalists are also referred to as naturopaths, herbal pharmacists and holistic medical doctors, although they are not qualified to prescribe pharmaceuticals or perform surgery on patients. Additionally, herbalists often practice other forms of alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic and midwifery.
The U.S. FDA considers herbal medicines as a form of ‘complementary and alternative medicine’, or CAM that represents a group of ‘health and medical care products, systems and practices not considered part of conventional medicine’. CAM practices include energy therapies, mind-body medicine and ‘biologically-based’ medicine, which includes herbal medicine.
To obtain an herbalist certification, students must first learn about hundreds of different medicinal herbs, how they affect the body and what herbs can be combined with other herbs to produce healing compounds. Course topics comprising an herbalist certification program may include phytotherapy, classification of herbs, botany/plant chemistry, plant toxology, Chinese herbs, aromatherapy, human physiology and the preparation and dosing of herbal medicines. Pediatric and geriatric use of herbs may be explored as well.
Medical Herbalism Certification
Completion of advanced coursework is required before students can receive certification. Topics include clinical trial results and procedures involving medicinal herbs, cultivating and harvesting herbs and hands-on identification of several hundred types of herbs. The AHG provides educational guidelines to help potential herbalists determine which coursework subjects they may want to pursue and recommends curriculum incorporate no less than 1600 hours of study, with at least 400 hours devoted to actual clinical experience.
Herbalist Certification Program Restrictions
Students should be aware that most herbalist certification programs are not accredited or recognized by universities. This means that earning an herbalist certification may not count towards earning an actual college degree. Moreover, no licensure programs exist for those wanting to be professionally recognized as an herbal practitioner. Therefore, students wishing to obtain some kind of recognized license may consider pursuing a naturopathic physician license (ND) degree, which involves attending a medical school offering naturopathic classes as well as basic M.D. sciences. Further, Doctors of Naturopathy must pass intense board exams before receiving their license as a primary care physician.