What is an Herbalist?
An herbalist is someone who has a connection with medicinal plants. They look at what others would call weeds and see them for the misunderstood herbs they really are. Herbalists work by combining ancient and folk knowledge of plants, as well as modern evidence-based research, in order to achieve optimal health for themselves and their clients.
Herbalists have been around since before written record. For centuries, herbalists were looked up to as healers, magicians, midwives, and a vital part to any community. However, in today's world, we have turned away from herbal medicine and have decided to take less natural (and less than ideal) approaches to our health care.
Despite its decline in popularity over the past hundred years, herbalism and its practitioners are seeing an increase of interest in their craft. Thanks to the rise of Paganism and Wicca, herbalists have once again found a place to belong. However, it's not only the Pagans who are expressing an interest in herbs and herbal medicine. People on a low income, as well as those who are just interested in natural healing and alternative medicine have been turning to herbalism. Additionally, people are beginning to discover that many midwives have kept with their foremothers’ traditions of using herbs while working within the realm of birth. Thanks to all of these factors, herbalists are once again gaining the respect that they deserve.
Introduction to the Wise Woman Herbalism Tradition by Susun Weed
American Herbalists Guild
Join the American Herbalists Guild
If you’re interested in becoming an herbalist, the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) is one of the best American associations for herbalists to join. They promote a high level of professionalism when it comes to herbal medicine. Through the Guild you can receive a certificate of professional membership. However, in order to receive this certification, you must first meet a large list of herbalist requirements.
There are many requirements for professional membership. You must have a minimum of 4 years of training (either from a school, mentorship, or independently) and clinical experience. You will also need 3 letters of reference from people in the field of botanical medicine (this includes holistic medical practitioners), 3 comprehensive case studies, and be able to provide an in-depth biography about yourself detailing all that you know about herbs and herbal medicine.
It is not required that you be a registered herbalist through the AHG in order to practice herbal medicine. However, it is safer for you (legally) if you obtain this registration. It also lends credibility to your skills because it requires you to have completed quite a rigorous herbal study before you're accepted.
If you haven't completed all of this training yet, but would still like to join the Guild to learn and have resources available to you, they do offer a general membership that does not mark you as being a certified herbalist.
Choosing an Herbal Education Route
There are three basic ways to become a registered herbalist. The first way is by going through a college or university herbalism program. The second is to go through an apprenticeship. The third method is self-study.
In order to become an herbalist you do not need to go through any college or university herbalism program. However, if you do not go through a school setting program, you must apprentice or shadow someone who practices herbal medicine/magic; or have a very detailed, well-planned, and well-documented self-study program.
Herbal School Program
Some colleges and universities offer a curriculum in Master Herbalism. One such college is the Heart of Herbs Herbal School. It is not necessary for you to go through such a program in order to become certified. However, if you are unable to find an herbalist to work under, going through such a program would not be a bad idea. Most of these programs cost anywhere from $100-$4000. Some places even offer just individual courses that you could take instead of taking the entire program. One school that offers individual herbal courses is the Wise Woman University, which is operated by the popular Wiccan herbalist, Susun Weed.
When it comes to herbal schools, you have the option to either study on campus or through distance learning. Both programs are fine, however, with the distance education, you will not have the amount of lab/clinical hours that you need to meet the American Herbalists Guild's requirements. These can easily be met by doing extra work on your own.
If you want to apprentice under someone, the American Herbalists Guild can usually find someone in your area who you can work under. If not, contact your local health food stores, occult stores, and any other places in your area that distribute herbs. They may be able to find an herbalist that can work with you. You do not have to work under a certified herbalist in order to receive your training. Many Native American tribes have herbalists who are not certified but who are well knowledgeable in their field and can help you along your way.
The self-study route is the hardest. It requires a lot of hard work, amazing organizational skills, and the ability to absorb information well and independently. Try to get as many books as you can on herbal medicine and study day and night. Plant an herb garden and keep a very detailed journal on everything that you do and notice. Treat your minor ailments with your herbs and note them in your journal. As you progress along and become more knowledgeable, you will be able to treat more than just minor scratches and stomach aches. Doing all of this is also a great idea for those who choose the apprenticeship route.
In addition to all of this, it doesn’t hurt to take a few college courses to help aid in your education. Courses such as Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Pharmacology, Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Botany, Medical Terminology, Nutrition, and Psychology are all very helpful when studying to become a master herbalist.
Becoming an Herbalist
An herbalist must know a great many things before they can consider themselves a master. They must know how to grow and harvest herbs, how to identify herbs (especially if they are out in the wild), how to diagnose basic medical conditions, how to make herbal medications, and so on.
In addition, herbalist must also know how to make and utilize the following:
- Cooking Herbs
If you are a Pagan wanting to do all of this for magical purposes, it is still beneficial to learn the medicinal purposes behind the herbs and how to craft them into such products. Herbal magic is most often rooted in herbal medicine.
Purchase as many books as you can on magical and medicinal herbalism and try to practice what you read. Start small. If you have a stomachache, try making yourself some peppermint tea. Keep an herb journal and record all that you do (such as treating stomach upset with peppermint) and learn through practice.
You should try to get a working knowledge of individual herbs to at least 150 herbs (this can include mushrooms). Know their properties, what ailments they can be used for, how to grow and harvest them, when to plant them, how to wild-harvest them, how to prepare them, etc.
Being an herbalist is not an easy job and should not be taken lightly. Fully consider what you are about to do before you dive into a world of herbs. Keep in mind that, while a great many herbs are your allies, they should not be abused or treated harshly. Respect them and they will respect you.
Study, Study, Study!
About the Author
Daniella Lopez is the pen name of Danie Newcomb. She is a full-time freelance writer, professional herbalist, and doula. She lives in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas with her two children that she homeschools. In her spare time she writes over at her blog, Primordial Willow.
Daniella Lopez (author) on October 15, 2014:
Thank you so much, kljones86!
Along with the wind from colorado on October 15, 2014:
Wow, nice hub Daniella! Very informational and interesting!
Daniella Lopez (author) on October 15, 2014:
Thank you so much, Audrey!
Audrey Howitt from California on October 15, 2014:
Just an excellent article!
Daniella Lopez (author) on October 07, 2014:
You're welcome, Sabrina!
I was the same way, Mel. I started off using herbs as a kitchen witch, which eventually evolved into me pursuing a path as a clinical herbalist. Thanks for reading!
Mel92114 on October 07, 2014:
I love working with herbs. I grow many of my own and find it to be really rewarding work. I use them in cooking, medicinally, and for magical purposes as well. I've often thought about pursuing formal education for herbalism so this article has been really helpful in giving those thoughts direction. Thanks so much for posting this.
SabrinaYakimovicz on May 14, 2014:
Glad I found this, great information here. Thanks!
Daniella Lopez (author) on November 14, 2013:
Good luck on your herbalist education, WiccanSage!
Mackenzie Sage Wright on November 14, 2013:
This is useful information; I grow herbs and work so much with herbs, and write a lot about them, but I refrain from dispensing advice because I don't have formal training/education in herbalism, or any kind of certifications. I've been thinking about going back to school for it and wasn't sure what kind of approach to take. This clears up a lot, thanks.
Daniella Lopez (author) on November 14, 2012:
Thanks! Glad you like it. :)
doctorcris from Texas on November 13, 2012:
Just read your hub and really appreciated all the info. Very thorough and useful. :)
Daniella Lopez (author) on November 12, 2012:
Thanks, Suziecat. Glad you enjoyed it. :)
suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on November 12, 2012:
Lots of great information here. I'm a big believer in natural remedies and supplements. Great Hub.
Daniella Lopez (author) on November 07, 2012:
Thanks Rajan Jolly. :D
Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on November 06, 2012:
Very interesting info on how to go about becoming a certified herbalist. Voted up and useful.