The Truth about “Herbal Certification” 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.
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. 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. 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. Ethics are central in an unregulated field.
All of this is to say: If you live in the United States, you can practice herbal medicine without a license or certification, and you can legally charge for your services as a clinical herbalist. Despite the unregulated status of herbalism in the United States, thousands of students attend herbal school every year and build thriving herbal businesses! 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
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 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.
Amidst 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 for herbal schools, most are not accredited in the same way that universities, colleges, and vocational schools are in the United States (we discuss a few exceptions below). You may not emerge from herb school with a title, but 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 (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 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 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 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)
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.
Next, we’ll dive into the legalities of herbal products businesses in the United States and the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs).
Get more info on starting your herbal career (and tons of herbal resources!) in our FREE 100-page eBook!
Resources for Budding Herbalists:
- How to Become an Herbalist
- Getting an Herbal Education
- An Herbalist’s Salary and Career Opportunities
- The Truth About “Herbal Certification” and Master Herbalist Status
- Legalities of Herbal Products Businesses in the United States & Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs)
Meet the Model
MEGHAN GEMMA is one of the Chestnut School’s primary instructors through her written lessons, and is the principal pollinator of the school’s social media community—sharing herbal and wild foods wisdom from the flowery heart of the school to an ever-wider field of herbalists, gardeners, healers, and plant lovers.
She has been in a steady relationship with the Chestnut School since 2010—as an intern and manager at the Chestnut Herb Nursery; as a plant-smitten student “back in the day” when the school’s programs were taught in the field; and later as a part the school’s woman-powered professional team. Meghan lives in the Ivy Creek watershed, just north of Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by Juliet Blankespoor