If you want to increase your knowledge of herbal medicine, you have an abundance of home study courses to choose from. Selecting a reputable school or instructor and a course that suits your needs in this diverse and unregulated academic field requires some preliminary study on your part, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The guidelines below can help you make informed choices, and the course descriptions beginning on page 60 will give you an idea of the wide range of alternatives. Note that these courses are for individual learning, not for professional certification.
• Determine your interests and what you hope to gain from the course. Some courses give a general overview of many herbal disciplines; others focus on specific topics such as aromatherapy, native remedies, making herbal preparations, or nutrition. You may find that several reasonably priced short courses fit your interests better than one longer, more comprehensive, more expensive course.
• Ask independent sources about the reputation of the business or school and the quality of its courses. Ask the chamber of commerce or Better Business Bureau in the city where the school is located whether any complaints have been filed against it, and check with professional herb associations (see the list at the end of this article). Check with any herb professionals you may know. Finally, ask the school for the names of students whom you may call to discuss their experience with the course.
• Write or call for catalogs and course descriptions from any programs that interest you. Read them carefully and compare courses. How long has the school been in business, and how many students has it had? Who is the instructor or author of the course, and what are his/her qualifications? How many lessons are there? What is covered in each lesson? Are sample lessons available? How long will it take to complete? How much does the course cost, and what kind of payment arrangements are offered?
• Talk to a school representative or the instructor. Reading about the course won’t answer all your questions, and getting a feel for the people who conduct it can be an important factor in determining whether it’s right for you. You might ask the person to explain more fully the school’s approach to herbalism and its teaching methods. Ask about the school’s policy on refunds if you are dissatisfied with the course—and make sure you get it in writing.
Herbalism By Mail
Here is a brief look at some of the herbal home study courses offered in the United States and Canada. Prices are subject to change.
Great Britain School of Herbal Medicine, American Branch
Designed for nonprofessionals who want to learn more about basic herbal remedies, this twelve-month course is divided into four quarters that may be completed at the student’s own pace. A certificate is awarded upon completion. The fee is $100 per quarter, plus textbook and postage.
Course work includes lessons on the philosophy and practice of herbal medicine; basic anatomy and physiology; malfunctions of the human body with suggestions for treatment; nutrition and dietetics; basic diagnosis; and a study of native remedies, which include plant cultivation and preparation.
• Write to PO Box 168, Suquamish, WA 98392, or call (360) 598-3556.
The American Herbal Institute
Created by herbalist Constance Walker, Modern Herbal Studies Correspondence Course features sections on herbology, nutrition, anatomy, physiology, and herbal remedies. Walker, who has more than fifteen years’ experience working with herbs, runs a retail store, The Herb Lady, in Salem, Oregon, with her husband, Dick. The couple began the herbal institute in 1993. The course costs $475 for thirty-seven lessons.
• Write to 3056 Lancaster Dr. NE, Salem, OR 97305, or call (888) 437-2539.
Aromatherapy and Herbal Studies
Herbalist and author Jeanne Rose’s course includes thirty-six lessons comprising more than 1,200 pages of material that encompasses an overview of herbs and their uses—“all things herbal and aromatic,” according to Rose.
The course fee is $450. Students who complete the basic course may then enroll in Aromatherapy Herbal, an intensive study of herbal treatments.
• Write to Rose at 219 Carl St., San Francisco, CA 94117, call (415) 564-6785, or fax (415) 564-6799.
The Australasian College of Herbal Studies
This school began in Auckland, New Zealand, as a department of the South Pacific College of Natural Therapies. In 1978, the college disbanded the department and Dorene Petersen, a naturopathic physician, took it over as an independent business. Peterson later moved to the United States and opened a stateside branch of the college in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
The college offers eleven correspondence courses that are aimed primarily at the home herbalist. Basic herbal studies, nutrition and body care, natural therapies, flower essences, homeobotanical therapy, and herbal energy are some of the courses offered. “The focus of the courses is on prevention and a healthy lifestyle,” Petersen says.
Courses range in length from three to twelve lessons; fees range from $163 to $1,040.
• Write to PO Box 57, Lake Oswego, OR, 97034, call (800) 487-8839, or e-mail australasiancollege@ herbed.com.
Dominion Herbal College
A registered provincial postsecondary school in Vancouver, B.C., run by naturopathic physician Herbert Nowell, Dominion Herbal College was founded in 1926.
The Chartered Herbalist Diploma program offers a home study course of sixty lessons emphasizing herbal medicine as practiced by Native Americans, Thomsonians, and Eclectics; the lessons cover human anatomy and physiology and properties, actions, and formulas using about 200 herbs.
The program costs $900 (Canadian funds). Students who receive a Chartered Herbalist Diploma may enter the Master Herbalist Program, which focuses on research and requires the student to write a thesis on some aspect of herbalism.
New this year is a home study course designed for pharmacists. Phytomedicine for Pharmacists takes about ten months to complete and requires attending a one-week seminar at the college. It costs $2,000.
Also new is an advanced four-year program called Clinical Phytotherapy, offered in cooperation with the School of Phytotherapy of Great Britain. On-site intensive herbal practicums and a clinical herbal therapy program are available to students who want additional training.
• Write to 7527 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC, Canada V3N 3C1, call (604) 521-5822, fax (604) 526-1561, or e-mail email@example.com.
East West Herb Course
Created by herbalist and acupuncturist Michael Tierra, this is a course devoted to the essential principles of herbs, including diet, energies, and tastes. It also examines the principles of disease and diagnosis for the application of herbs in Western, Ayurvedic, and Chinese medical systems. The emphasis is on clinical diagnosis of specific diseases and health maintenance.
The home study course comprises twelve lessons and costs $185. Other shorter courses are available.
• Write to PO Box 712, Santa Cruz, CA 95061, or call (800) 717-5010 or (408) 336-5010.
Herbal Healer Academy
Marijah McCain, naturopathic physician and instructor, offers twenty-two lessons in medicinal herbology that provide hands-on learning experience with herb samples. “I wanted to empower people,” McCain says.
McCain, a bacteriologist, came to study herbal medicine in an effort to heal a sick son eighteen years ago. She has since then devoted herself to learning all she can about alternative healing methods.
Students pay an initial $30 for registration and the first two lessons. Each additional lesson is $10 plus postage.
• Write to HC, 32 Box 97-B, Mountain View, AR 72560, call (501) 269-4177, or fax (501) 269-5424.
Herbal Preparations and Natural Therapies
Medical herbalist Debra Nuzzi St. Claire developed this home study video course on how to create and use an herbal home medicine chest. The four-hour presentation is divided into easy lessons and comes with a laboratory manual containing recipes, charts, and supply sources. A therapy section of the course teaches the student how to apply poultices, packs, fomentations, plasters, steams, baths, and other natural therapies.
St. Claire studied at the Dominion Herbal College in Vancouver, B.C. Her course offers a well-structured introduction to making herbal preparations in your kitchen. It costs $149.
• Write to Morningstar Publications, 177 Brook Cir., Boulder, CO 80302, or call (303) 444-6072.
Petite Fleur Essence
Around the World with Herbs is a course created by Judith P. Griffin, a medical herbalist who holds a doctorate in nutrition. Griffin has been on a lifelong path of herbal study, and her healing methods involve diet and nutritional supplements.
Her course explores the uses of herbs in a variety of cultures and focuses on the major herbs used in the cuisine, culture, and medicine of China, India, North and South American native tribes, Mediterranean countries, and Mexico.
The course consists of five 90-minute audiocassettes and an instruction manual and costs $90.
• Write to 8524 Whispering Creek Tr., Ft. Worth, TX 76134, or call (817) 293-5410.
Renewal of the Spirit Wholistic Institute
Established in 1990, the school’s courses are the work of principal Donia Gonzales-Copeland, a doctor of divinity, marriage and family therapist, and medicine woman. Gonzales-Copeland’s mother was a Portuguese medicine woman, and from early childhood she watched her mother work with the sick people of her neighborhood. Later, as a therapist in a medical and alcohol rehabilitation center, she worked on herbal therapies for recovering alcoholics.
Her correspondence courses include one on herbal studies, available in four parts, each costing $50, and one on natural cosmetology, $80. She also teaches classroom courses in herbology at Delaware Technical Community College.
• Write to PO Box 371, 105 Clinton St., Delaware City, DE 19706, or call (302) 834-5407.
School of Natural Healing
Founded on the teachings of John R. Christopher, a pioneer of herbal education, the School of Natural Healing operates on the philosophy that if you cleanse and nourish the body, it will repair itself. “My father was a link between herbs’ being almost extinct in the forties and picking up again in the seventies,” says his son, David, who now directs the school. “The country almost lost herbology. There were just a few people who kept it going, and he was one of them.”
More than 5,000 students have studied with the school since it was founded in 1953. “The goal of the school is to put an herbalist in every home,” Christopher says.
The School of Natural Healing offers seventeen levels of instruction in its correspondence program. A starter course titled Be Your Own Doctor (Health 100) costs $100. Other levels may be purchased separately.
• Write to PO Box 412, Springville, UT 84663, call (800) 372-8255, or fax (801) 489-8341.
School of Natural Medicine
School founder and director Farida Sharan, a physician, naturopathic doctor, and herbalist, first became involved with herbs in the 1970s. She moved to England, where she founded the British School of Iridology (the study of the iris of the eye for indications of bodily health and disease), the School of Natural Medicine, and Herbs of Grace in England. She established the School of Natural Medicine in Boulder, Colorado, in 1988 after returning to the United States to live.
The school offers three home study courses: Herbal Medicine, which consists of twenty lessons, $500; Naturopathy, twelve lessons covering the philosophy of naturopathic medicine and the holistic approach to healing, $500; Iridology and the Foundation of Natural Medicine, fourteen lessons on iridology and the foundations of natural medicine, $700. A sample lesson is available for $25.
• Write to PO Box 7369, Boulder, CO 80306, call (303) 443-4882, fax (303) 443-8276, or e-mail naturamed @aol. com.
The Science and Art of Herbology
This home study course was written by veteran herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, founder of the California School of Herbal Studies and cofounder of Traditional Medicinal Herb Tea Company. She currently operates Sage Mountain Herbs in Vermont.
The course focuses on medicinal herbology, hands-on herbal preparation and formulation, Earth ceremony and awareness, herbal first aid, natural cosmetics and skin care, materia medica, and herb research. A sample lesson is available for $20, and the course fee is $375.
• Write to Sage Mountain Herbs, PO Box 420, East Barre, VT 05649.
Wilderness Leadership International
Marian Kramer, a professor at Loma Linda University in California, has created several correspondence courses to help people learn more about the uses of the plants around us. Topics include identification of wild edibles, eating wild plants safely, primitive cooking, herbs and their uses, herbal therapies, and wilderness survival techniques. Fees range from $25 to $65 per course, plus textbooks.
• Write to 24414 University Ave., #34, Loma Linda, CA 92354, or call (909) 796-8501.
Wise Woman Center
Author and instructor Susun S. Weed has created three correspondence courses, each offered at beginner, experienced, and competent or practicing levels. Which level to take is determined by the student. Each course includes books, audio- and videotapes, and study guides. Students work at their own pace.
“My courses will cause one to write poetry and dance naked in the moonlight,” Weed says.
Weed’s interest in plants began as a child when she retreated to the woods and spent time with plants. Health difficulties led her to explore plants as medicine in 1966. Since then, she has trained about 250 students.
The three courses are Green Witch, which looks at personal growth—how to ground yourself in your own power through the use of plants and magic; Green Allies, which focuses on a single plant of the student’s choice that is studied for a year; and Spirit and Practice of the Wise Woman Tradition, which focuses on scientific, heroic, and wise woman traditions. The fee is $350 per course.
• Write to PO Box 64, Woodstock, NY 12498, or call or fax (914) 246-8081.
When seeking professional references, these organizations may be able to offer assistance by providing information about their members.
• The American Herbalists Guild, PO Box 746555, Arvada, CO 80006. (303) 423-8800; fax (303) 423-8828.
• International Herb Association, 1202 Allanson Rd., Mundelein, IL 60060. (847) 949-4372; fax (847) 566-4580.
Laura Clavio is the owner of Goldenseal Media, a freelance writing and public relations service in West Lafayette, Indiana, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is the author of The Directory of Herbal Education.