Herbalists use their knowledge of plant medicines and their therapeutic applications to promote health and relieve illness
As a herbalist you'll take a holistic approach to treating patients, looking at the underlying causes of the illness and not just the symptoms, and will prescribe herbal remedies to be used alongside other treatments and medicines.
You'll prescribe herbal remedies for a number of health issues and conditions, including:
- anxiety and stress
- chronic fatigue syndrome and ME
- digestion issues
- fertility, pregnancy and childbirth
- hormone health
- immune system health
- nutritional health
- pain, inflammation and aching muscles
- skin complaints.
Herbalists are also known as medical herbalists.
As a herbalist, you'll need to:
- carry out initial consultations with patients to diagnose a condition or illness
- take a detailed medical history, including symptoms and diet and lifestyle
- carry out a physical examination and other relevant tests
- devise a therapeutic plan and explain it to the patient
- use your knowledge of plant remedies to prescribe medicines appropriate for the treatment of a range of illnesses, with the aim of assisting the body's own healing properties
- use a holistic approach to advise patients on diet, exercise, lifestyle and emotional wellbeing
- undertake follow-up appointments to assess patient progress and to make changes to the herbal medicine if needed
- refer patients to other health practitioners and specialists where appropriate
- grow, prepare and produce herbal medicines in some cases
- maintain stock levels and order new stock
- keep accurate patient records
- be on call to patients, either in person, by phone or over email
- keep a welcoming, professional practice area
- keep the dispensary clean and secure
- market your business and promote your services
- keep up to date with new research
- work to high ethical and professional standards.
As herbalists are self-employed, you'll also need to carry out activities related to running a business.
- You're likely to charge between £45 and £100 for an initial consultation, which usually lasts an hour (although it may be 90 minutes to two hours in some cases, which will cost more). The fees you can charge will depend on a range of factors, including your location.
- Follow-up sessions are typically cheaper as they're shorter. These usually last from 20 to 40 minutes (but can be longer) and you'll charge accordingly.
- The cost of any medicines provided is in addition to these fees.
Your income on starting out may be very low due to the initial costs of setting up a business and the limited number of patients. Factors affecting your income include the price you charge per hour, the number of patients you attract, your running costs and overheads, your reputation and whether you work from home or in practice with other practitioners.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
You'll typically do a standard working week, although you may need to be flexible to suit your clients' needs. For example, you may choose to work some evenings or weekends. You can work either full or part time.
What to expect
- You may need an additional job in the early stages of setting up a practice, until your client base becomes large enough to sustain a regular income. The time taken to build up a practice varies as you'll need to assess the local market and raise awareness of your services.
- Work is done on a one-to-one basis and takes place in a clinic, GP surgery or in your own home or a client's home.
- Opportunities exist in most cities, large towns and rural areas.
- Experienced herbalists may work on a consultancy basis or as an employee, undertaking research for herbal growers and product manufacturers.
- You're not likely to spend much time travelling or staying away overnight, although you may visit patients in their home.
Herbalism is not currently a regulated profession and there are no specific entry requirements to become a herbalist. However, you should complete a degree-level course in herbal medicine accredited by the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA), which is formed of a number of professional herbal practitioner associations, or by The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH).
Courses typically last three years full time, or five to six years part time, and include a combination of theory and supervised clinical training.
You'll cover areas such as anatomy, botany, diagnostic skills, dispensing, health and safety, health psychology, medical legislation, nutrition and diet, pathology, physiology, and practice management, as well as learning the art of herbal medicine. Check with individual course providers for specific entry requirements and their approach to herbal medicine. See EHTPA and NIMH accredited courses for a list.
EHTPA accredits undergraduate and postgraduate herbal medicine degree courses, and once graduated you can become a member of one or more of the professional associations making up EHTPA.
The NIMH accepts applications for membership from herbalists with degree-level qualifications or equivalent from an accredited programme of Western herbal medicine. You may be able to apply without an accredited course via their Individual Accreditation Scheme if you meet their fitness to practise criteria.
These associations may have extra entry criteria, for example an interview, criminal records check or declaration about your health, which you'll need to fulfil before you can become a member. Check with individual bodies.
Membership of a professional association will also enable you to get professional insurance. Research your options carefully and make sure you choose a course relevant to your career aims.
You'll need to have:
- knowledge and understanding of herbs and their preparation, in addition to knowledge of physiology and anatomy
- excellent interpersonal, communication and active listening skills and a strong interest in people
- sensitivity and empathy
- a high level of emotional maturity and resilience
- the confidence to promote your services and business
- commitment and perseverance
- the ability to maintain appropriate boundaries between yourself and your patients
- time management and organisational skills
- general business, administrative and IT skills for running a business.
Try to gain work experience in a dispensary or clinic before studying. Contact herbalists in your local area and ask to shadow them during patient consultations.
Lists of registered herbalists are available on the websites of the member organisations of EHTPA and on the NIMH website.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Herbalists are self-employed and you're most likely to set up your own practice after you've completed your accredited degree in herbal medicine.
You can choose to work from home and adapt a part of your home into a space in which to diagnose and treat patients. Alternatively, you can be based in a complementary health clinic or herbal dispensary, working as part of a team with other alternative health practitioners. These can include acupuncturists, shiatsu practitioners and aromatherapists.
Make sure you're listed on the herbal register for your area of herbal medicine. These registers are held by the member organisations of EHTPA and the NIMH. As a member of a professional association you must also abide by their code of conduct, practice and ethics.
For more information on setting up a business, see self-employment.
Once qualified, you'll need to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your career in order to make sure you maintain high levels of safe and legal practice, as well as keep up to date with developments in herbal medicines and studies on plants. Much of your education will take place throughout clinical practice and grows with experience of both patients and plants. However, you can also:
- attend conferences, lectures and seminars to update your clinical skills and therapeutic knowledge
- join a study group to develop your knowledge in a specific subject area such as nutrition
- do further study at Masters level or undertake research at PhD level.
CPD opportunities are provided by members of EHPTA:
- British Association of Traditional Tibetan Medicine (BATTM)
- College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy (CPP)
- Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM)
- Unified Register of Herbal Practitioners (URHP)
In addition, the CPP runs a buddy system for new and established members to help build confidence and reduce isolation. The NIHM and CPP both have a mandatory programme of professional development for their members.
You may also want to take business-related courses in areas such as marketing and finance.
Learning to manage a practice takes time and you must be committed to developing a role in which, for the short and medium term, salary levels and numbers of clients may be low. Success depends on your ability to establish and build your reputation, which in turn depends largely on the amount of effort you put into building and marketing your business.
Once you've successfully established your practice, you may decide to offer other complementary therapies to patients. These may include:
Some herbalists work with other providers of complementary therapies at complementary health centres.
You may also choose to specialise in particular areas, such as women's health, skin problems, respiratory problems or digestive issues.
There are some opportunities for experienced herbalists to move into teaching or training. You may also choose to undertake research into the medical applications of herbal remedies.
Consultancy and public relations work may be available with companies involved in the natural health product industry.