Is There An Herbal License in the US?

community folk healing herb school herbalism natural products self development Jul 03, 2024
is there an herbal license in the US?

Can I be a Licensed Herbalist in the US?

If you want to get serious about your herbal education, you may have researched certification programs in the United States. Here, we’ll go over what’s available and what the credentials mean.

The American Herbalist Guild is the overarching organization for herbalists in the US, providing information, data, a school directory, a practitioner directory, and a program through which a person can become a Registered Herbalist. But, it doesn't license herbalist. Why?

Because there is no legally recognized certificate or license in the US to be an herbalist. In place of a license, the AHG has created a strong vetting program where they create a rigorous process through which you can learn, study and practice and then obtain a credential as Registered Herbalist (RH).

In the United Kingdom, however, the legal landscape is different. King Henry VIII created a charter guaranteeing herbalists the right to practice, unfettered and without harassment from physicians and surgeons, in perpetuity under English Common Law. Their system isn't perfect and can be amended (as in the linked article), but it does provide a certain immunity for herbalists which upholds the right of a person/patient to choose their form of health care, especially if it resonates with their beliefs, culture or ethnicity.

The US doesn’t have such a charter; herbalists have no legal standing. We certainly aren’t doctors or physicians—we can’t practice medicine and must be extremely careful about our words (verbally and in writing) to ensure we don’t claim to be practicing medicine, even when we know that herbal remedies can support health.

For those who wish to gain credentials in herbal medicine, students can get certificates of completion for programs that teach various aspects of herbal healing. Programs vary widely and can focus on any number of issues related to health and botany. I’ve seen programs that are strictly science-based with plenty of chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and I've seen programs that combine herbalism with astrology. There are study programs that teach both herbalism and homeopathy (a very different form of medicine); or that focus on women’s health or men’s health or children's health; or that are religious-based or culture-based. The point is that there are many perspectives to teaching and learning herbal medicine and it's a broad and rich discipline. An herbal instructor can choose how he or she wishes to teach herbal medicine and they can design their curricula how they want. The student who completes their program can earn a certificate of completion, but this is very different from a legally-recognized license.

A license, such as that which a massage therapist must obtain, ensures that the student has studied a certain number of hours with an accredited (state sanctioned) school and also completes continuing or professional education hours or units throughout their career to maintain their license and stay up-to-date on their industry. Herbalism has no such license, which is both a blessing and a curse.

The Herbal License Controversy

Because there is no governing body in the United States that oversees the legal practice of herbalism, it is basically considered an illegal practice. Not really--that's a bit of an exaggeration-- but it’s not a legally governed career in the strictest sense. There’s nothing wrong with saying you’re an herbalist or learning or teaching about herbal medicine. But there’s a grey area beyond that: herbalists cannot claim to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or they will run afoul of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance laws that restrict who can do these things (only licensed medical providers and approved drug manufacturers can).

So, this has created varying opinions.

Supporters of a legal standard would like there to be a governing body with clear laws and regulations that mandate standards in a curriculum and practice. They believe this would lead to clarity within the industry and would strengthen safe and healthy standards. Herbal products would be regulated more like drugs and would need prior approval before manufacturing and sale, and herbal practitioners would need state-or-federally approved training and education and be regulated in how they speak, practice, and teach.

Opponents believe this would unnecessarily restrict what is really a traditional healing practice that is a heritage from world cultures where individuals learn and teach each other about botanical healing methods. They also feel that individuals should have the right to determine whether they use plants for their own health without government interference, and whom they seek out for medical guidance.

Getting an Herbal Certificate

If you wish to pursue learning more about herbal medicine, your next step is to research the wealth of educational opportunities and decide which ones are right for you. I say “ones” because I encourage students to learn from a variety of herbalists and practitioners, as we all have different perspectives and experiences. You won’t learn everything about herbal medicine from just one person.

Get out there an take a variety of classes, go on herb walks, learn to craft herbal products and also learn the deeper academic or scientific side of plant healing. Explore everything you’re interested in, whether it’s natural healing for women’s reproductive health, herbs for the brain and mental illness, making cosmetics and clean beauty products,becoming a nurse or clinical herbalist, starting an herbal business, harvesting wild plants and foraging edible herbs, and so much more.

When you’re ready to commit to an in-depth program, you’ll likely earn a certificate of completion.

Difference Between Community Herbalist and Registered Herbalist

A certificate of completion means you’ve completed a particularly robust program in a specific area. Depending on the program, you may be eligible to call yourself an Herbalist, or a Community Herbalist, or a Certified Herbalist, or a Clinical Herbalist. There’s no legal guidance one way or the other and you must understand the implications and expectations of the program you enroll in.

Be aware that to be a Registered Herbalist you need to go through the American Herbalist Guild’s 800-hour study requirement and submit evidence of written, verbal, live, and other academic study. Also, the RH credential is geared toward people pursuing clinical herbalism especially. Also be aware that the term Master Herbalist has certain connotations; some believe this term is a bit old-fashioned or that it is elitist. Sometimes Master Herbalist courses are geared toward agriculture and gardening, while others are more healing-based. There's no right or wrong, but know yourself and understand the path you're taking, and explore as many options as possible.

Do your research and don’t feel you need to pigeon-hole yourself into only one study program. I’ve studied and taken classes with a wide, wide range of instructors and I find value in each.

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