THE TRUTH ABOUT
AND MASTER HERBALIST STATUS
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.
So we’ll cut to the chase and tell you straight up: there is 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). Individual schools may offer their own certificate of completion or a title upon completion, but without national standards, these certificates and titles are not nationally recognized. It is interesting to note that the public is generally not familiar with the subtleties of certification or licensing for herbalists in the United States. It is our opinion that it is misleading to represent oneself as a certified herbalist when there is no certifying process.
This may seem disappointing at first, but it hasn’t stopped thousands of students from attending herbal school and building thriving herbal businesses over the years! In truth, there are both advantages and pitfalls to the way things stand. Here, we’ll help you make sense of herbal certification (or the lack thereof) so you can make the best choices for your herbal education and livelihood.
Herbalism Beyond Certification
If you live in the United States, you can practice herbal medicine without a license or certification. Most herbal programs will 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.
Because herbalism is unregulated, herbalists must 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 sounds confusing, note that this protects herbal practitioners, guides their actions, and empowers 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 the lack of certification and regulation, the craft and practice of herbalism is thriving. So what will help you earn herbal cred in the field?
Study with a Top-Notch Herbal School
Since certification isn’t an issue, you’re free to choose the herbal school or apprenticeship that most excites you! Attending a first-rate online or in-person school, as well as completing a clinical program or apprenticeship, will give you a strong foundation in herbalism and prepare you to take the next steps in starting your herbal business or practice. Since there is no industry accreditation of herbal schools, most schools are not accredited in the same way as most universities, colleges, and vocational schools in the United States (see the list of exceptions below). You may not emerge from school titled, but your school’s reputation will help you earn respect within the field. Closely read the reviews of any program you might be considering. We’ve compiled a list of Herbal Schools around the country to help you get started.
Register with the American Herbalists Guild (AHG)
The 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 truly important to you, or if a college education makes sense financially, there are several schools throughout the United States that award degrees in herbal medicine. (However, even after all this, 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 a student loan 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! Below 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)
May your herbal futures be bright and your worries about certification light! To learn more about the legalities of practicing herbal medicine in the United States, see the American Herbalists Guild’s list of Legal and Regulatory FAQs.