Getting to know herbs evokes a variety of responses, from “How would this taste in a cream sauce?” to “Could these really help my blood pressure?” Some people take the conversation much further, however, and realize that they want to learn everything they can about medicinal plants so they can become herbal healers. Immediately after that inspiration, they’re likely to find themselves asking some very basic questions: “How do I become a practicing herbalist?” or “What are the steps, where are the schools and what’s next?”
Answering those questions isn’t always easy. The United States requires no state or federal licensing for medical herbalists. However, herbal medicine is a growing field with good professional prospects and many choices, depending on your career preferences.
One option is to become a naturopathic physician with a degree from an institution such as Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. Bastyr is one of seven programs accredited by the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.
Naturopaths are licensed in 15 states, which you’ll find on the website for the American Association of Naturo-pathic Physicians, www.naturopathic.org . Naturopathic practice includes a variety of natural therapies, including a strong component of herbal medicine.
If Traditional Chinese Medicine (acupuncture and botanical practice) piques your interest, explore the informative website of the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine ( www.acaom.org ). Most states have licensing for acupuncturists, many of whom use herbs in their practice.
Independent schools like Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, Maryland, offer master’s programs in botanical medicine. Mountain State University in Beckley, West Virginia, also offers a degree
program in herbal sciences.
The American Herbalists Guild has a useful and easy-to-navigate Web page, “AHG Guide to Getting an Herbal Education,” which outlines various options and opportunities including distance learning, short courses, and comprehensive on-site courses, as well as apprenticeships and independent scholarship options. (See “How to Get a Healing Education.”)
While herbalism once relied heavily on apprenticeships, folk wisdom and informal learning, the modern herbal student has those historic channels, plus new educational choices.
The American Herbalists Guild has an excellent guide to help get anyone started on their quest for an education: www.americanherbalistsguild.com/herbal_education . You also can contact these herbal educators:
American College of Healthcare Sciences
The British Institute of Homeopathy
East West School of Planetary Herbology
Institute of Chinese Herbology
Kingdom College of Natural Health
Midwest School of Herbal Studies
Mountain State University
Natural Healing Institute
Oregon College of Oriental Medicine
The School of Natural Healing
Tai Sophia Institute
Trinity School of Natural Health
Wise Woman Herbal
Steven Foster is an expert in medicinal plants.