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The Green Pharmacist

What should you look for in a pharmacist?
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Credentials continued...

But herbalists come from many different traditions (Western, Native American, and traditional Chinese medicine, to name three) which makes it difficult to set criteria. "Any time the guild tries to set some minimum standards for who can call themselves an herbalist, they run into problems," says Rob McCaleb, president of the Herb Research Foundation in Boulder, Colorado. "There are just too many schools of herbalists."

The various branches of herbal medicine use different certification systems. For example, the National Certification Council for Acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine tests practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine on their knowledge of herbs.

Schooling and Training

If you find an herbalist outside of the guild, be sure to ask her where she went to school, whether the school was accredited, and how long the program lasted. Herbal training programs can vary from a few months to years.

"I would not go to an herbalist who did not have at least a year of schooling or apprenticeship," says Niki Telkes, an herbal-information specialist at the American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas. You should also find out if your herbalist has taken any continuing education courses to stay up-to-date on the latest research.

Look also for an herbalist with general medical training or who works closely with a physician, suggests Robin Dispasquale, ND, acting chair of the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University. That way the herbalist will know when your problem requires medical attention, and won't simply mask symptoms with herbs when you really need further professional help.

Attitude

A good herbalist is willing to work with others in the medical field, says Telkes. "If they can't help you in the best way possible, can they find you someone who can?" Beware of herbalists who make disparaging remarks about other healing professions. "It's not about competition; it's about making you well."

Herbalism is about treating a person with a very individualized program, adds Telkes. Because of this, you need to feel extremely comfortable with your herbalist. If you aren't, or if she can't explain what she's doing and what the herbs are for in a way you can understand, find somebody else. "That might take extra effort, but that's how you'll get the best health care."

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