How To Become an Herbalist: Certifications & Resources

Have you ever wondered how to become an herbalist? Herbalism is the art and science of using herbs for health. Becoming an herbalist can take many different professional paths, but …

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Written by: Siobhan Mendicino
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Medical Review by: Daniel Powers, MS
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Have you ever wondered how to become an herbalist?

Herbalism is the art and science of using herbs for health. Becoming an herbalist can take many different professional paths, but some require specific qualifications.

In this article, we’ll discuss the legal logistics involved in becoming an herbalist and share various career options in herbal medicine.

how to become a certified herbalist

What is An Herbalist?

An herbalist is a person who uses plants to help with healing. They are not medical doctors, but some herbalists are also called medical herbalists.

Some herbalists may have formal medical credentials, such as achieving a doctorate in naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, or chiropractic care. Additionally, some herbalists may become a “Registered Herbalist” by completing the guidelines as set out by the American Herbalists Guild (the leading formal herbalist certification in the US).

Additionally, some herbalists may be community herbalists or herbal enthusiasts that serve their families or local community. They may have formal training and accreditation, or they may have taken an informal internship with a local herbalist within their community.

Calling one’s self an “herbalist” doesn’t convey any particular medical powers or duties. 

Can a Herbalist Practice Medicine?

No, an herbalist is unable to practice medicine. However, they are able to use their expertise with medicinal herbs to boost wellness and encourage the body back into holistic balance. Herbalists can also promote functional foods and certain lifestyle practices to support clients.

While an herbalism career is highly accessible, a federal or state-recognized herbal certification doesn’t exist in the United States. The government requires a medical license to treat, cure, or diagnose a patient.

Since it’s illegal for herbalists to treat, cure, or diagnose patients, there’s an FDA-compliant vocabulary herbalists must adhere to if they choose to market an herbal product. Through compliant copy, an herbalist is responsible for their own legal protection.  

What Jobs Can a Herbalist Do?

There are numerous routes a person can take to become an herbalist. Online herbal studies often result in a certificate of completion, while formal studies – like the programs offered by universities, colleges, and the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) – result in bachelor’s and master’s degrees and the status of “Registered Herbalist.”

After their chosen form of study is completed, an herbalist can choose to:

  • Educate
  • Create herbal products 
  • Grow and/or harvest herbs
  • Start an apothecary
  • Practice the application of herbs
  • Conduct scientific research   
areas of herbal medicine

Herbalism Areas of Study:

To become an herbalist, general areas of study should be completed before considering a professional career in herbalism.

Below are some brief explanations of each topic.

  • Botany and Plant Science: Offers information on plant biology, ecology, species, and how plants respond to environmental stressors. 
  • Herbal Materia Medica: Learn how to create a database of herbs you can reference anytime. Each herb profile will include the herb’s properties, uses, contraindications, and more. It’s also encouraged to keep track of personal observations and experiences. 
  • Plant ID and Wildcrafting: Develop reliable and accurate plant identification skills and sustainable and ethical wildcrafting practices. This topic may also share information on bioregional herbalism. 
  • Herbal Preparations: Explore various herbal preparations, such as infusions, decoctions, salves, or tinctures, and learn how to make them. This topic may also share information on solvents and how they work, go over important safety information, and discuss dosages. 
  • Anatomy and Physiology: It’s essential to know how the body works to understand how plants work with the body. Anatomy and physiology offer information on the structure and function of the human body. You may also learn how herbs interact with the body, as well as body constitutions and energetics of both plants and bodies.
  • Health and Safety: Crucial information on drug-herb interactions, contraindications and side effects of herbs, and when to contact a professional healthcare practitioner.
  • Personal Experience: Gain hands-on experience with herbs by growing, harvesting, and preparing herbs. This portion may also include mentorship or apprenticeship and allow you to experiment with herbal preparations personally.     
  • Legal and Ethical Considerations: Learn about the restrictions and regulations that are involved with herbalism. This topic will also include how to source herbs sustainably and ethically and offer information on necessary certifications and licenses for specific professional paths. 

How Can I Start An Herbal Practice?

An herbal practice can take many forms. They fall under the categories of herbalist, registered herbalist, and licensed medical practitioner (usually a naturopathic physician or chiropractor).

Below is an overview of the different ways one can practice herbal medicine.

1. Herbalist Hobbyist:

If you don’t choose to become a registered herbalist (more information below), there are numerous professional options. A herbal hobbyist uses their expertise to share information about herbs, offer herbal products, and potentially apply their skills and advise clients to promote holistic health.

Some herbalism careers supported by an online training or academic degree include: 

  • Community herbalist 
  • Herbal entrepreneur 
  • Herbal photographer
  • Herbal writer 

It’s important to note that given the inability to acquire licensure in the US, these titles are unofficial. 

2. Registered Herbalist:

The American Herbalists Guild constructed the “Registered Herbalist” accreditation process as a way for herbalists to “demonstrate core knowledge and experience in herbal practice that establishes a meaningful competency standard for themselves” (2023).

Requirements for becoming a registered herbalist: 

  • 800 hours of botanical medicine education, independent study, or both 
  • 400 hours of total clinical experience, including a minimum of 300 hours of direct client contact 
  • 80 individual clients seen within two years
  • 150 medicinal herbs as part of your working materia medica
  • 3 case studies from clinical practice with 2 or more follow-up sessions
  • 2 letters of recommendation from herbal colleagues 
  • 3 health care practitioners in your local referral network (a trustworthy connection with local doctors so herbalist can refer clients when necessary)  
  • 10 textbook sources that you refer to in your practice (accredited texts that support research and a daily practice) 

With the “Registered Herbalist” accreditation, herbalists can put the acronym RH(AHG) after their name. They’re also included in the American Herbalists Guild’s trusted database. 

The “RH” title allows herbalists to serve their local community, practice at a clinic, start an apothecary, coach others on herbalism, and much more. It’s considered a “vote of confidence” in their herbal abilities. 

3. Licensed Medical Practitioner:

Another route for herbalists is to become a licensed medical practitioner, allowing them the freedom to treat, cure, and diagnose patients. Some options include: 

  • Naturopathic Doctor 
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor
  • Licensed Acupuncturist
  • Chiropractor

Each state has different regulations; however, all states require four years of graduate-level medical school, either from a federally accredited naturopathic medical school or an American College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine accredited school. After graduating, a graduate must pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX) or the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) National Board Exam

Once a licensed medical practitioner receives their licensure, they’re able to open a private practice, work in a clinic, prescribe drugs, diagnose, treat diseases, and conduct peer-reviewed scientific research.  

resources for herbal education

Additional Resources:

For more information on how to become an herbalist and access herbal resources, explore these professional herbal organizations and websites. 

American Herbalists Guild

American Botanical Institute

United Plant Savers

Herbal Academy Herbarium

Henriette’s Herbal

A Modern Herbal 


Although no formal licensure exists to become an herbalist, the herbal industry is growing.

Learning herbalism could support personal autonomy around wellness and the health of family, friends, and the community.  

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About Siobhan Mendicino

Siobhan is a herbal researcher and writer. She has a bachelor of science in communications as well as having completed a post-baccalaureate certificate in herbal studies.