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 their illness and not just the symptoms. You will select appropriate herbal remedies based on your diagnosis and taking into account any other treatments and medicines the patient is already using.
You'll treat clients with a number of health issues and conditions, including:
- chronic fatigue
- digestion issues
- emotional health
- energy and stamina
- fertility, pregnancy and childbirth
- heart and circulation
- hormone health
- immune system health
- nutritional health
- pain, inflammation and aching muscles
- skin complaints.
Herbal remedies can come in a variety of forms, such as creams, ointments, drinks, tablets, powders and infusions/tinctures.
Herbalists are also known as medical herbalists.
As a herbalist, you'll need to:
- carry out initial consultations with patients and take a detailed medical history, including symptoms, diet and lifestyle, and any prescription medicines, supplements or vitamins they are taking
- 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 select 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 when necessary
- 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 £120 for an initial consultation, which usually lasts an hour (although it may be 90 minutes to two hours in some cases). The level of fees you charge will depend on a range of factors, including your location (fees charged in London are usually higher) and the length of the consultation. The fee may also include your written report and recommendations.
- 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, plus post and packaging, 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, the discipline of herbal medicine you specialise in, and whether you work from home or in practice with other practitioners.
As you build your reputation, you will start to receive new patients via word of mouth.
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 usually takes place in a clinic 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.
There is no statutory regulation of herbal practitioners and there are no specific entry requirements to become a herbalist. However, you should complete a degree-level (level 6) 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).
Currently, there is one accredited BSc (Hons) Clinical Herbalism course available at Lincoln College, with validation by The Open University, and a small number of level 6 professional diplomas. Check with individual course providers for specific entry requirements and their approach to herbal medicine. For a list of accredited courses, see the EHTPA and NIMH websites.
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, pathophysiology, pharmacology, plant chemistry and practice management, as well as learning the art of herbal medicine.
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. 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.
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.
Membership of a professional association is important as it shows you are a competent and safe professional with appropriate training.
Some course providers run introductory courses to help you decide whether herbalism would be a good career for you. 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.
It's a good idea to get some work experience in a dispensary or clinic before studying if possible. You could contact herbalists in your local area and ask to shadow them during patient consultations (if the patient agrees). 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-level qualification in herbal medicine.
You can choose to work from home and adapt a part of your home into a space in which to 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. This ensures you maintain high levels of safe and legal practice and keep up to date with developments in medicine, herbal medicine and studies on plants.
Membership of a relevant professional body is important and provides you with a range of benefits, including legal support and access to up-to-date news on current laws and regulations that affect herbalists. You will need to adhere to the association's code of ethics and conduct and meet their CPD requirements.
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)
Opportunities are also provided by the NIMH and the Herbal Alliance.
As part of your CPD, you can:
- attend conferences, events, 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.
Some of the professional associations also provide mentoring or buddy schemes for new members to help build confidence and reduce isolation, as well as a range of other benefits.
It can also be useful to take business-related courses in areas such as marketing and finance, to help you build and develop your practice, and in food safety to make sure you follow the correct hygiene regulations when dispensing.
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.