The Mythic “Certified Herbalist”
How Do I Become a Master Herbalist?
How Do I Become a Certified Herbalist?
How Do I Find an Accredited Herbal School?
These are burning questions among folks who want to study herbal medicine or become practicing herbalists.
THE PRACTICE OF HERBALISM in the United States is largely unregulated; there is no certifying agency for herbalists, nor any licensing requirements. If this sounds simple, believe me—it raises all kinds of questions about herbal certification for newcomers to the field. We address those questions here. We also discuss the herbal products industry, which is regulated (to a degree). I know that learning about career legalities isn’t the most exciting way to spend your time, but it’s part and parcel of this work and absolutely essential to building an herbal livelihood. We discuss the basic information you need to make decisions and resources for moving forward.
The Truth About Herbal Certification
Most folks entering the herbal field want to know whether they can become a certified or licensed herbalist—in the same vein that nutritionists and massage therapists can become certified and licensed. The truth is, there is currently no certifying agency or licensing board for herbalists in the United States—and therefore no such thing as an herbal certification or professional title (such as Master Herbalist or Certified Herbalist). Most herbal programs award a certificate of completion upon graduation, but this
is not the same as obtaining certification from an official board. As such, herbalists who claim to be “certified” are unnecessarily misleading the public, who, for the most part, assume that there must be a certification process leading to that title.
All of this is to say: if you live in the United States, you can legally charge for your services as a clinical herbalist without a license or certification.
Because herbalism is unregulated, herbalists are obliged to adhere to a simple code of conduct: they cannot diagnose, prescribe, or treat patients (unless they have a medical license in another field that confers those rights). They can, however, legally recommend, educate about, and dispense specific herbs. If this play on words sounds confusing, note that the distinctions are important—they protect herbal practitioners, guide their actions, and empower clients to be more engaged in their healing process. And unless herbalists have the appropriate official medical training in diagnosing medical conditions, they absolutely should not be making medical diagnoses.
Despite this lack of certification and regulation, the craft and practice of herbalism are thriving. So what will help you earn herbal cred in the field?
Study with a Top-Notch Herbal School or Mentor
We’ve already discussed many of the nuances of getting an herbal education, but here we elaborate a bit on how accreditation (or the lack thereof ) can affect your choices for herbal study. Because there is no industry accreditation of herbal schools, most are not accredited in the same way universities, colleges, and vocational schools are (see the list of exceptions below). Though you won’t graduate from herb school with a title, your school’s reputation will help you earn respect within the field. Closely read the reviews of any program you might be considering! For a list of herbal schools and clinical programs around the country, download our FREE resource How to Start Your Herbal Career: The Ultimate Guide for Budding Herbalists.
Register with the American Herbalists Guild
The American Herbalists Guild (AHG) is a highly respected organization that promotes clinical herbalism as a viable profession and valuable component of health care. The AHG is not currently in favor of imposing licensing on practicing herbalists, but it does offer a designation of Registered Herbalist, which can be obtained through a rigorous application process. This title doesn’t confer any legal rights, but it is an industry standard that reflects proficiency in the field of clinical herbalism. To learn more about the title and the application process, you can visit Becoming an AHG Registered Herbalist.
Enroll with an Accredited Herbal Program in a College or University
If earning a degree is important to you, or if a college education makes sense financially, several schools throughout the United States award degrees in herbal medicine. (However, even with a degree in hand, you still will not receive an official title or certification! So, first and foremost, choose a program that really fits your style of living and learning.) The perks of studying at an accredited school are largely financial—you can often use GI Bill benefits and 529 college funds, and you can earn AmeriCorps credits (be sure to check in with prospective schools about these details!). That said, if you don’t receive financial aid, be sure to closely weigh the pros and cons of taking out a student loan for education that will lead to a career in the field of herbal medicine. The burden of student loan debt can be exceptionally heavy to emerging herbalists!
Here is a list of accredited schools currently offering degrees in herbal medicine:
- Bastyr University
- Hill College
- Maryland University of Integrative Health
- Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism (in partnership with Goddard College)
Resources for Budding Herbalists:
- How to Become an Herbalist
- Getting an Herbal Education
- An Herbalist’s Salary and Career Opportunities
- Herbalist Training: The Mythic “Certified Herbalist”
- Legalities of Herbal Products Businesses in the United States & Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs)