Should Your Herbalist Be Certified?

Herbalists seek to define standards and who should impose them.


| July/August 2001



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If you were searching for an herbalist, how would you go about finding one? “In a perfect world, every community would have an herbalist who everyone knew and trusted,” says Aviva Jill Romm, executive director of the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) and the guild’s director of education and certification. Not long ago, lay herbalists tended the well-being of their communities without concern of credentials or certification. An herbalist was judged solely by his or her skill as a healer. Yet today, our society is dominated by credentials, says Romm, and community herbalists can be hard to find. Brigitte Mars, a longtime Boulder, Colorado-based herbalist, author, and faculty member at the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies, agrees. “If I wanted to find an herbalist, I would contact the American Herbalists Guild for a referral to a qualified practitioner,” Mars says.

But Rosemary Gladstar, founder of the California School of Herbal Studies and a well-known educator, writer, and activist in the herbal community, has a different point of view. “I would never choose a healer according to whether or not they had credentials. I’d find someone through word of mouth,” says Gladstar.

Up to this point, there has been no certifying organization for U.S. herbalists, and no standards for the practice of herbalism. The AHG wants to change that and is actively working to establish educational guidelines and a process of both registration and certification for herbalists. This raises a red flag for some herbalists who believe that certification will be detrimental to the practice of herbal medicine.

“I don’t think there’s anything that fires the herbal community up more than this controversy,” says Gladstar. “The decisions made about these issues will have a tremendous and far-reaching effect on the future of herbalism.”

The AHG was founded in 1989 with the intention of developing a professional organization for herbalists specializing in medical herbalism. Its stated purpose was to unify practitioners and to serve the public by raising the standards of herbal medicine and ensuring the competency of herbalists. From the beginning, though, there has been dissension around the issue of certification. Although the final plans for registration and certification are still in the works, the AHG intends to make both available by the end of this year. Meanwhile, the controversy continues.

“Many people are concerned about what certification implies,” says Roy Upton, vice president of the AHG and the legislative coordinator for the organization. “And some people have an inherent distrust of anything organized.”

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