Are you feeling called to explore the herbal path? Whether your intention is to begin a career in herbalism or simply to support the health and well-being of yourself and those around you, there is one common thread that unites all plant healers: a deep desire to better understand nature and connect with the natural world.
In our modern context, many of us initially feel called to herbal medicine through a personal health crisis, a deepening curiosity of the plants around us as we interact with nature via gardening or outdoor activities, or as a form of activism to keep alive the traditions and collective knowledge of our ancestors. As this inspiration develops, you may find yourself wondering where to begin.
Here is a simple guide to help you as you step forth into the world of plant medicine.
What is Herbalism?
From a technical perspective, herbalism is the art and science of applying herbs for promoting health. It is often referred to as, and encompasses concepts of, Herbology, Herbal Medicine, Phytomedicine, Phytotherapy, and Phytopharmacology, among other names.
It has persisted as the world’s primary form of medicine since the beginning of time, with a written history more than 5,000 years old.
From a more holistic perspective, herbalism is truly about the human-plant connection. It’s an ever-evolving relationship to not only understand the “medicinal value” in herbs but to understand them in the greater context of the natural world and the interrelation of plants and human activity. It is in this journey of discovery that your love for the plants will lead you down your own unique path.
What is an Herbalist?
Generally speaking, herbalists are people who dedicate their lives to working with medicinal plants. This understanding of the medicinal aspects of plants may lead them to become traditional healers, clinical herbalists, scientists, naturopaths, holistic medical doctors, researchers, writers, herbal pharmacists, botanists, ethnobotanists, herbal medicine makers, wild crafters, herb growers, or midwives, to name a few. You might even find an herbalist in your family tree educated through passed down herbal traditions.
How to “Become” an Herbalist?
Plant medicine has been practiced throughout the world since the dawn of human-plant interaction; from wherever you hail, you will find a lineage of plant healers. In some cases, the path to becoming an herbalist rests in self-study and application of inherited traditions. In others, a more formalized herbal education program through an outside institution may be more appropriate. The first step in your herbal journey is determining whether you’d prefer to learn through self-study, apprenticeship or through formalized coursework on its own or as part of a larger accredited-degree program.
You may also want to give some thought to herbal traditions or lineages you are interested in learning more about. Here in North America, some of the most prevalent and accessible traditional herbal studies programs are Western Herbalism, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Herb Schools & Herbal Programs
Below are some herbal education options to consider; by no means is this an exhaustive list. It is simply a list of some of our favorites and a good place to start your exploration. These herbal institutions offer a variety of long-term or short-term, in-person or online options. Each also has its own unique approach – this is one of the beautiful things about the herbal movement in the United States! You may want to reach out to the folks at these institutions to find the school that most speaks to your way of learning and special interest.Folk, Indigenous and Western Herbalism Schools
Directory: Herbal Education Directory, searchable by country & state, in-person or virtual learning
- Ancestral Apothecary
- Blue Otter School of Herbal Medicine
- California School of Herbal Studies
- Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine
- David Winston’s Center for Herbal Studies
- Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine
- Herbal Academy
- Hood Herbalism
- Northeast School of Botanical Medicine
- Rootwork Herbals
- Rosemary Gladstar’s Science & Art of Herbalism
- Sage Mountain
- Seed Soil Spirit
- Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism
- Wild Ginger Community Herbal Center
- …for even more suggestions, download our Herb School Guide!
Ayurvedic Herbalism Schools
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Schools
- Directory: Accredited TCM Programs in the US and Canada
- Resource: National Certification Commission
Accredited, Degree Granting Herbalism-Inclusive Programs
- Bastyr University – Bachelor of Science in Herbal Sciences
- Maryland School of Integrative Health – Master of Science in Clinical Herbal Medicine, Master of Science in Herbal Product Design/Manufacture
Herbal Medicine Textbooks and Self-Study Library
Some folks learn about plant healing just to have it in their toolkit for supporting the health and wellness of friends and family, to better understand the world around them or to simply connect with nature. Gathering a few herbal books by trusted authors and diving down the rabbit hole of self-study will give you a solid herbal foundation.Principles & Application of Herbal Medicine:
- American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook
- Body Into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care
- Herbal Constituents: Foundations of Phytochemistry
- Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals: A Handbook for Practice on a Scientific Basis
- Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals (5 volumes)
- Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine
- Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide – 33 Healing Herbs To Know, Grow, and Use
- PDR for Herbal Medicines, 4th edition
- Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy
- Working the Roots: Over 400 years of Traditional African-American Healing
Growing, Harvesting and Farming Medicinal Herbs:
Botany & Foraging Wild Herbs:
Making Plant Medicine:
Professional Herbal Organizations & Additional Resources
For even more inspiration and support, check out these national organizations for trusted information on plants, resources for students and practitioners, and really fun and educational conferences and symposiums!
- American Botanical Council – Dedicated to educating the public about the safe use of plants. They have an amazing library of plant monographs and put out a quarterly journal called the HerbalGram.
- American Herbalists Guild (AHG) – Founded in 1989, the AHG is for dedicated herbalists and serious herbal students. They offer a variety of membership and sponsorship options. While visiting their site, you can take advantage of their many resources from webinars and symposiums, to educator, practitioner, and student resource links, as well as apply to become a Registered Herbalist.
- United Plant Savers (UPS) – In our current competitive landscape of emerging botanical businesses there is increased demand for wild medicinal plants, which has led to the over harvesting of many herbal allies. Become a member of UPS and aid in the awareness, conservation, and protection of these valuable and sacred resources.
- Queering Herbalism – Dedicated to equity, diversity and inclusion within healing spaces, they offer a collection of self-education resources and directory of queer, trans, non-gender conforming and BIPOC healers, collectives, herb schools and social justice organizations.
- Herbalists Without Borders – An organization that works to bring holistic care to countries and communities impacted by events that block access to healthcare, like natural disasters, trauma, economic disparities, and violent conflicts. Members receive support in many areas, including technical assistance for starting a free clinic or community medicine garden, webinars, discounts, chapter listings, and much more.
- HerbRally – A valued resource for discovering herbal education in its many forms, HerbRally offers a directory of apprenticeships, a calendar of herbal events & symposiums, and a comprehensive list of herbal schools worldwide.
While herbalists are quite varied, the common love and respect for life, especially the relationship between plants and humans, unites them. We welcome you to the herbal world and wish you success and happiness in your herbal journey wherever it may lead!