The Truth about Herbalist Certification
How Do I Become a Master Herbalist?
How Do I Become a Certified Herbalist?
How Do I Find an Accredited Herbal School?
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 herbalist certification or a professional title such as Master Herbalist or Certified Herbalist.
There are a few exceptions, such as earning a college-accredited degree in herbalism, becoming a Chinese herbalist and acupuncturist, or becoming a Naturopathic Doctor. We’ll discuss these options for accredited herbalism schools later in this article. In addition, plenty, if not most, herbalists with professional careers in the US don’t possess an herbalist certification, nor have they attended an accredited herbalism school.
Most herbal programs award a certificate of completion upon graduation, but this differs from obtaining an herbalist certification from an official board. 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 a “certified herbalist” may confuse the public, who, for the most part, assume that there is an official herbalist certification process leading to that title.
There are many herbal medicine schools that award certificates after their students complete their studies and meet their school’s rigorous requirements. To learn more about finding a quality herbalism school that offers this type of herbalist certificate, visit our Herbalism Schools Directory. Please note that without a certifying agency or licensing board, most herbal schools are not accredited as they are in other healing professions. In other words, there aren’t accredited herbal schools outside the few university or college-accredited options below.
What can you do with an herbalist certification?
Even without an official herbal degree, you can still practice herbal medicine.
If you live in the United States, you can practice herbal medicine without a license or herbalist certification and legally charge for your services as a clinical herbalist. (You’ll find more on the legalities of professional herbalists and their scope of practice below.) There are plenty of professions within the field of herbal medicine beyond clinical herbalism. We’ve compiled the most comprehensive list of herbal careers on the Interwebs, including what salary you might earn in your chosen herbalist profession. Despite the unregulated status of herbalism in the United States, thousands of students attend herbal school every year and build thriving herbal businesses! Check out the dazzling array of businesses that Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine graduates own.
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. To learn more about herbal legalities in the US, visit the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) Legal and Regulatory FAQs. Preparing herbal products for sale to the general public is more regulated. You can learn more about this topic in our article, Legalities of Herbal Products Businesses in the United States and the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs).
Herbalists living in the United States can practice without herbal certification.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca). Your path to becoming an herbalist might involve earning a degree in botany.
If there is no herbalist certification, how do I become a legitimate herbalist or earn a degree in herbal medicine?
Attending a first-rate online or in-person school and completing a clinical program or apprenticeship will give you a strong foundation in herbalism and prepare you to start your herbal business or practice. To learn more about gaining herbalism training, visit our write-up on Getting an Herbal Education. And there are bushels of options for learning about herbalism on a budget or for free, including beginner herbalism courses that don’t cost money. My path to becoming an herbalist involved earning a degree in botany from an accredited university and attending three herbalism schools that offered completion certificates but were not accredited. Since there is no industry accreditation for herbal schools, most are not accredited (we discuss a few exceptions below).
You may not emerge from herb school with a title or license, 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 nationwide, download our FREE resource How to Start Your Herbal Career: The Ultimate Guide for Budding Herbalists.
Herbalists can legally recommend, educate about, and dispense specific herbs.
What can herbalists legally do? And how are herbalists regulated?
Because herbalism is largely unregulated, herbalists must adhere to a code of conduct:
Herbalists 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. Clients should know that any herbalist they work with cannot diagnose a medical condition or disease or treat illness. Unless herbalists have the appropriate official medical training in diagnosing medical conditions, they absolutely should not be making medical diagnoses. One of the biggest issues with a lack of certification is the potential for people to practice the ancient craft of plant medicine without awareness of current legal and ethical limitations. Here are the American Herbalists Guild Code of Ethics and the Ontario Herbalists Association Professional Code of Ethics.
Becoming an AHG Registered Herbalist is the closest thing to herbalist certification in the United States.
Are herbalists certified when they become a Registered Herbalist (AHG)?
The AHG, or American Herbalists Guild, 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 or certification 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. It is the closest thing in the U.S. to herbalist certification. To learn more about the title and the application process, you can visit Becoming an AHG Registered Herbalist. 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.
There are several accredited schools throughout the United States that award degrees in herbal medicine.
Earn your herbal degree by enrolling in an accredited herbal program at 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 herbal medicine certification! So, first and foremost, choose a program that fits your living and learning style.) 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.
Here is a list of accredited schools currently offering degrees in herbal medicine:
JULIET BLANKESPOOR is the founder, primary instructor, and Creative Director of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school serving thousands of students from around the globe. She’s a professional plant-human matchmaker and bonafide plant geek, with a degree in botany and over 30 years of experience teaching and writing about herbalism, medicine making, and organic herb cultivation. Juliet’s lifelong captivation with medicinal weeds and herb gardening has birthed many botanical enterprises over the decades, including an herbal nursery and a farm-to-apothecary herbal products business.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession through her writing and photography in her online programs, on her personal blog Castanea, and in her new book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies. Juliet and her family reside in a home overrun with houseplants and books in Asheville, North Carolina.