What is an Herbalist?

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An herbalist is someone who specializes in handling herbs for medicinal purposes. In some cases, an herbalist focuses on growing herbs, while others may harvest or collect herbs in the wild, and some offer herbal remedies, education and advice. In many cases, an herbalist performs all three tasks, managing his or her own stock of herbs to ensure that they are of high quality.

Herbalists can practice either as primary health care providers or adjunctive health care consultants. Most visits to an herbalist begin with a consultation about your past and current health history, your dietary and lifestyle practices, or other factors related to your health issue. The herbalist, with your involvement, should develop an integrated herbal program that addresses your specific health needs and concerns. You should be treated as a whole person, not as a disease.

The primary focus of the herbalist is tteaso treat people as individuals irrespective of the disease or condition they have and to stimulate their innate healing power through the use of such interventions as herbs, diet and lifestyle. The primary focus of conventional physicians is to attack diseases using strong chemicals that are difficult for the body to process, or through the removal of organs. Not only does this ignore the unique makeup of the individual, but many patients under conventional care suffer from side effects that are as bad as the condition being treated. The philosophical difference between herbalists and conventional physicians has profound significance..

Herbalism is the art and science of using herbs for promoting health and preventing and treating illness. It has persisted as the world’s primary form of healing since the beginning of time, with a written history more than 5000 years old. While the use of herbs in America has been overshadowed by dependence on modern medications the last 100 years, 75% of the world’s population still rely primarily upon traditional healing practices, most of which is herbal in nature.

The use of herbs for healing is ancient, and in some parts of the world it is a practice which is considered on par with more mainstream healing practices. In Asia, for example, many people see a Chinese herbalist who has studied Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for medical treatment. In many Western nations, herbalism is considered complementary or alternative to traditional healing, and it may be disparaged by some medical professionals.

Various herbal traditions have developed old apothecary chestworldwide. In the West there are a number of different traditions which include folkloric herbal practices, clinical western herbal medicine, naturopathic medicine, practitioners of Ayurveda or Chinese medicine and numerous Native American herbal traditions. Some practitioners use highly developed systems of diagnosis and treatment while others base their treatments on individual knowledge and experience. Every person must find the herbal practitioner that is most appropriate for them.

Traditional Western, or Community Herbalists, base their work on traditional folk medicine or indications of historical uses of herbs and modern scientific information. Backgrounds may include folk, Native American, eclectic, wise woman, earth-centered or other traditions. They may be trained through traditional or non-traditional methods such as apprenticeships, schools or self-study. Medical or Clinical Herbalists are present in the United States and in most of the nations in the European Union. Professional education is offered in the USA and throughout Europe in a variety of formats. Most programs cover the traditional uses of herbs, the basic medical sciences of biochemistry, nutrition and anatomy as well as diagnosis and prescription. The most common titles given to medical herbalists from the Western world include: RH (AHG), Registered Herbalist, American Herbalists Guild; MCPP Member, College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy; FNIMH Fellow, National Institute of Medical Herbalists; MNIMH Member, National Institute of Medical Herbalists; FNHAA Fellow, National Herbalists Association of Australia.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the traditional medicine system of China, is the second-largest medical system in the world after Western medicine. TCM doctors go through extensive training in theory, practice, herbal therapy and acupuncture. Quite a few states now license acupuncturists, and many consider them primary health care providers. Their titles may include L.Ac. Licensed Acupuncturist; OMD Doctor of Oriental Medicine; or Dip. C.H. (NCCA) Diplomat of Chinese Herbology from the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists.

Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine, (Ayurveda), the traditional medical system of India and Nepal, is the third largest herbal medicine system in the world today. Ayurvedic doctors treat more than 80 percent of the people on the Indian subcontinent and go through extensive training that can last as long as 12 years. Some use the title M.D. (Ayur.) when they come to English speaking countries, while those who have passed the accreditation process of the American Ayurvedic Association are given the title D.Av. Diplomate in Ayurvedic Health Sciences.

Naturopathic Medicine integrates traditional natural therapeutics with modern scientific medical diagnoses and western medical standards of care. Most licensed naturopathic physicians, (N.D.) have received full medical training at one of four fully accredited medical universities in North America. There are currently 13 states that license the practice of naturopathic medicine.

Medicinally, an herb is any plant part or plant used for its therapeutic value. Yet, many of the world’s herbal traditions also include mineral and animal substances as “herballoose teas“?

Herbs are different from pharmaceuticals in that most pharmaceutical drugs are single chemical entities that are highly refined and purified and are often synthesized. In 1987 about 85% of modern drugs were originally derived from plants. Currently, only about 15% of drugs are derived from plants. In contrast, herbal protocols are prepared from living or dried plants and contain hundreds to thousands of interrelated compounds. Science is beginning to demonstrate that the safety and effectiveness of herbs is often related to the synergy of its many constituents.

An important part of herbalism is the identification of various herbs and what they can be used for. Since herbs do not have standardized ingredients like processed pharmaceuticals, an herbalist must also be skilled in collecting and storing herbs properly to ensure that they will work as intended. A professional and ethical herbalist is aware of drug interactions between various herbs and with mainstream pharmaceuticals, and she will carefully discuss a patient’s situation before offering an herbal prescription.

Herbs can offer you a wide range of safe and effective therapeutic agents that you can use as an integral part of your own health care program. They can be used in three essential ways:

1) to prevent disease

2) to treat disease

3) to maximize one’s health potential.

Herbs are also used for the symptomatic relief of minor ailments.

Healing is an art, not just a science. No one can predict which herb will work best for every individual in all situations. This can only come with educated self-experimentation and experience or by seeking the assistance of those who are knowledgeable in clinical herbal healing. The simpler the condition, the easier it is to find a solution. The more complicated the condition, the greater the need there is to seek expert advice.

The success of herherb shopbal treatment always depends upon a variety of factors including how long the condition has existed, the severity of the condition, the dosage and mode of administration of the herb(s) and how diligently treatment plans are followed. It can be as short as 60 seconds when using a spoonful of herbal bitters for gas and bloating after a heavy meal; 20 minutes when soaking in a bath with rosemary tea for a headache; days when using tonics to build energy; or months to correct long-standing gynecological imbalances. Difficult chronic conditions can often take years to reverse.

Herbal supplements can be used to promote general health or address system conditions. Herbs may also be taken in the form of teas, distillations, tinctures, and essences for conditions ranging from menstrual cramps to uneasy stomachs, as well as for chronic, persistent health issues that cannot be resolved within traditional allopathic medicine.

The success of herbal treatment always depends upon a variety of factors including how long the condition has existed, the severity of the condition, the dosage and mode of administration of the herb(s) and how diligently treatment plans are followed. It can be as short as 60 seconds when using a spoonful of herbal bitters for gas and bloating after a heavy meal; 20 minutes when soaking in a bath with rosemary tea for a headache; days when using tonics to build energy; or months to correct long-standing gynecological imbalances. Difficult chronic conditions can often take years to reverse.

Although herbs are “natural,” they can still be harmful, as some plants do contain toxins. It is important to work with a qualified and trained herbalist who understands interactions both between the herbs being prescribed as well as with traditional prescription medications.  It can be dangerous to mix herbs and prescription medicines, so it is important to discuss all herbs, medications, and supplements you are taking with both natural and traditional medical practitioners. In addition, some people find that working with both an herbalist and a traditional medical practitioner can help achieve desired health results.  A competent herbalist will usually welcome the additional input of medical testing and other diagnostic tools to treat a patient’s condition.

Generally, herbs are safe, but it depends on the herbs. Most herbs sold as dietary supplements are very safe. When used appropriately, the majority of herbs used by practitioners have no adverse side effects. A review of the traditional and scientific literature worldwide demonstrates that serious side effects from the use of herbs are rare. According to Norman Farnsworth: “Based on published reports, side effects or toxic reactions associated with herbal medicines in any form are rare. In fact, of all classes of substances reported to cause toxicities of sufficient magnitude to be reported in the United States, plants are the least problematic.”

Safety information for herbs can be found by speaking with your qualified herbalist or by reading the labels of the professionally-compounded herbal supplement.  Read product labels carefully. Many manufacturers provide appropriate information. There are also a number of references that are commonly available on the web and in herbal literature. As winfusionsith all remedies, the primary determination of whether it is appropriate for you is based on your own experience.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) primarily regulates the marketing and advertising of products and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) primarily regulates the manufacture and labeling of herbal products and has legal authority over assuring that products are manufactured correctly and are truthfully labeled with respect to ingredients and claims. Additionally, there are a number of trade associations that require member companies to adhere to specific codes of ethics and conduct their own testing programs to ensure safety and efficacy.

How to Choose an Herbalist:

The qualifications to become an herbalist vary widely, depending on the nation, and many nations have no set regulations for the practice of herbal medicine. In some regions of the world, herbalists can attend formal training programs and receive certification through an independent organization to ensure that they are well versed in the practice of herbal medicine. In other instances, someone may apprentice with an herbalist before setting up an independent practice.

First and foremost recognize that the relationship between a health care provider and a client should begin with clearly articulated goals and responsibilities. Every client should be fully informed of the experience, training and services provided by the practitioner. Similarly, the provider should clearly understand the goals and desires of the client. Together the client and provider must determine if the experience and services provided meet the needs of the client. For help in finding a qualified herbalist, either contact your local health food or herb store for referrals, ask for recommendations from people whose judgment you trust, or contact a national organization such as the American Herbalists Guild.

The American Herbalists Guild (AHG) was founded in 1989 as a non-profit, educational organization to represent the goals and voices of herbalists. It is the only peer-review organization in the United States for professional herbalists specializing in the medicinal use of plants.

Herbalists from any tradition with sufficient education and clinical experience, who demonstrate advanced knowledge in the medicinal use of plants and who pass the AHG credentialing process (a careful review by a multidisciplinary admissions board) receive professional status and the title, Registered Herbalist, AHG. The AHG has a developed a code of ethics, continuing education program and specific standards for professional members. The American Herbalists Guild’s roster of professional members includes some of the most respected herbal authorities in the United States and abroad.

Katie MacCionnaith at Willow Woman Herbal Healing has undergone rigorous training with Aviva Romm, one of the foremost medically-trained herbal healing practitioners in the world today.  Katie currently is working towards her American Herbalist Guild’s Registered Professional Membership, the preeminent certification process for professional herbalists in the United States

As a member of the American Herbalist Guild, we operate according to the following code of ethics:

Informed Consent/Full Disclosure

AHG members will provide their clients and potential clients with truthful and non-misleading information about their experience, training, services, pricing structure and practices, as well as disclosure of financial interests if they can present a conflict in practice; and will inform their clients that redress of grievances is available through the American Herbalists Guild or through the appropriate agency where the member is operating under a state license.


Personal information gathered in the herbalist/client relationship will be held in strict confidence by the AHG member unless specifically allowed by the client.

Professional Courtesy

AHG members shall present opinions about and experiences with other practitioners and healing modalities in an ethical and honorable manner.

Professional Networking

Clients shall be encouraged to exercise their right to see other practitioners and obtain their botanicals from the source of their choosing.

Practitioner as Educator

AHG members shall assume the role of educators, doing their best to empower clients in mobilizing their own innate healing abilities and promotion the responsibility of clients to heal themselves.

Peer Review

AHG members shall welcome a peer review of their publications, lectures, and/or clinical protocols. Peer review is a primary means of enhancing our level of knowledge and expertise and should be encouraged.


AHG members shall recognize their own limitations when they feel a condition is beyond their scope of expertise and practice as an herbalists, or when it is clear that a client is not responding positively to therapy.

Avoiding Needless Therapy

Recommendations shall be based solely on the specific needs of the client, avoiding excessive or potentially needless supplementation.

Environmental Commitment

AHG members should acknowledge that individual health is not separate from environmental health and should counsel clients to embrace this same Earth-centered awareness.

Humanitarian Service

AHG members should be open and willing to attend to those in need of help without making monetary compensation the primary consideration.

Quality Botanicals

AHG members should endeavor to ensure that the botanicals they use are formulated and manufactured in a way that will deliver the desired therapeutic results, striving to obtain organically grown and ethically harvested botanicals whenever possible.herbs

Sexual Harassment

AHG members shall not use their position as teachers or consultants to seek sexual encounters with students or clients.

If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to call or write!


What is an Herbalist? (2013). Retrieved February 10, 2013, from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-an-herbalist.htm,

Herbal Medicine Fundamentals (2013).  Retrieved March 5, 2013, from http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/fundamentals

AHG Code of Ethics (2011). Retrieved February 10, 2013, from http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/ethics


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