What Is an Herbalist?

People have used herbs for thousands of years, relying on powdered supplements, teas, tinctures, and skin creams to help treat everything from skin rashes to mild depression. Herbal supplements, also known as botanicals, are made from the leaves, flowers, roots, and bark of plants.

An herbalist is someone who uses plants for healing. These practitioners are not medical doctors, though some practitioners are also referred to as medical herbalists.

What Does an Herbalist Do?

Herbalists attempt to find the root cause of illness. Practitioners will choose herbs based on the symptoms or ailments a patient describes during the consultation. They will also perform a clinical exam, inspecting certain areas of the body and create a personalized prescription. Patients may use just one herbal treatment or a combination of herbal supplements.

Common forms of treatment include:

  • Teas
  • Capsules containing liquids or powdered herbs
  • Bath salts
  • Oils
  • Skin creams and ointments

Education and Training

There isn't one common training or certification program for herbalists, which makes their path different from a doctor who attends medical school. Some schools offer graduate-level programs in clinical herbal medicine, where students are encouraged to combine evidence-based science and traditional herbal medicine. 

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Other organizations, like the American Herbalist Guild (AHG), offer memberships and certifications. The AHG requires 400 hours of training and clinical experience before practitioners can apply for the title of Registered Herbalist.

Herbalists study:

  • Human sciences, including anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry
  • Nutrition 
  • Pharmacy and dispensing 
  • Botany and plant science
  • Evidence-based botanical research

Herbalists may attend a school that specializes in holistic or alternative medicine. They may also choose to combine formal education with:

  • Clinical mentorships
  • Real-life experiences
  • Intensive self-study
  • Workshops, webinars, or conferences in their field of interest

Reasons to See an Herbalist

An herbalist shouldn’t replace a doctor or mental health professional, but may be a source of complementary treatment. Some people visit an herbalist for: want to visit an herbalist:

  • Non-medication treatments 
  • Advice on lifestyle habits to reduce pain or stress
  • Trouble sleeping

Precautions 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers herbal supplements food and doesn't have the same set of stringent regulations medication does. Botanicals aren't subject to the same testing and manufacturing guidelines as prescription drugs. An herb might be advertised as "natural" or "organic," but not all products are safe.

Here are some things to keep in mind when using herbal supplements:

  • Get your doctor’s OK before trying any herbal treatments.. Many medications, treatments, and conditions do not mix well with herbs and supplements.
  • Do your research. Seek out a licensed herbalist. 
  • Read the label. Follow the instructions and don't take more than the prescribed dosage. 
  • Be aware of any side effects. Nausea, dizziness, or stomach pain may be a sign your body isn't responding well. 
  • Watch for allergic reactions. Call 911 if you have a severe allergic reaction or breathing problems.
  • Report any problems. The FDA tracks side effects of dietary supplements, and consumers can report adverse reactions or safety concerns.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Herbalists Guild: "AHG Suggested Education Guidelines." 

Berkeley Herbal Center: "5 Reasons to See an Herbalist." 

BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies: "Why people use herbal medicine: insights from a focus-group study in Germany." 

Cleveland Clinic: "Herbal Supplements."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Herbal Medicine." 

Maryland University of Integrative Health: "Herbal Medicine." 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Using Dietary Supplements Wisely." 

National Institute of Medical Herbalists: "What Is a Herbalist?"

U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Herbal Medicine."

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