We sometimes get that question at our clinic or through e-mail and over time have come up with a few answers. Everyone who is interested in herbs and herbal healing comes at the subject from different levels of interest and needs. Herbal knowledge can be a hobby, a developed interest, or even a profession.
There are a few ways you can become an herbalist for free or mostly for free. This involves subscribing to a monthly course, like Learning Herbs, or looking up information on the basics of herbal healing online and reading everything you can find. This last approach is, of course, free.
Another way is to volunteer at an herbal farm, manufacturing facility, or educational center or with an herbal teacher. A time-honored way of learning about herbs is to apprentice with a clinical herbalist or folk herbalist. In this approach you are trading your time and work for knowledge and training.
You can also become an herbalist, either by conventional study or home study courses. There are very few “herbal colleges” that would qualify as a residential learning center. Two examples would be the Maryland University of Integrative Health or California Institute of Herbal Studies. The first is more formal and looks and feels like a “real” degree, while the second appears to be a more informal hippie-like setting. However, the California school has some dynamite guest faculty that represents some of the most creative herbal minds that we have today.
This brings up an important piece to understand if you are starting the herbal journey. At first you don’t know what you don’t know. It takes a while to understand what you need to learn, what it takes to become an herbalist, and most importantly, what your level of interest actually is in healing.
You may find that being a clinical herbalist is not really what you want to do. Perhaps, what you really would be interested in is painting herbs, or making drawings of herbs, or simply walking in the woods and identifying plants. All these pursuits, and other flavors of “medicinal herb” knowledge is or can be a part of being an herbalist.
No matter which direction you choose on the herbal healing path, you will have to take some courses if you want to become a certified herbalist. Of course, it depends on how quickly you can learn whether its self-learning or in a classroom. Laurence Layne recommends these schools for learning Herbalism.
Some people are interested only in helping their family and friends stay healthy. This too is a noble goal. It is often called the path of the family herbalist. It does take a certain amount acquired knack and basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Learning how herbs work with the body takes dedication, especially to keep you and your family or friends healthy. Some people feel overwhelmed when learning Latin terms for body parts and functions, but interest trumps insecurity, and many find their “inner student” blossoming and enjoying a new level of learning.
As the information age expands into learning at home and on any subject, you can become a basic, entry level herbalist in as little as 6 weeks. Of course, it depends on how fast you learn and how quickly you want to finish your studies. To learn this fast usually means you are enrolled in a home study course. These vary in quality and level of learning, but like degrees offered in regular colleges, distance learning is part of how people learn these days. A basic distance learning herbal training does not give you a degree, a license, or standing as a health professional. All those require other training in addition to your herbal certification.
Taking an herbalist certification will not allow you to treat disease in the sense of practicing medicine. It will allow you to help yourself, your family, and friends to prevent illnesses, to become healthier, and to optimize health. Modern herbal healing is part of the health and fitness revolution. Everyone is interested in improving health, and it is accurate to say that herbs support and improve health. By doing so, you may indeed reduce or eliminate disease, solve chronic health issues, ease the vicissitudes (changes) of aging, or even stop pain such as low back pain, shoulder pain and indigestion. If you use all the information you learn about herbs for your family, they will be the healthiest on the block and you won’t have wasted your time.
Health professionals also learn about herbs to give something additional to their patients in search of health. Like lay people who learn about herbs, starting with a basic course gives a good start and educates the professional learner about what herbal healing is all about.
Because of the Internet, virtually anyone in any location has access to herbal learning. In Part 2 of this blog, we will discuss more specifics and what are some of the things that can be done with an herbal certificate.