How to become a Medical Herbalist. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about Medical Herbalist careers.
What does a Medical Herbalist do?
Medical herbalists use the healing power of plants to treat a wide range of medical conditions, including skin problems, allergies, arthritis and stress-related conditions. Herbal medicine (also known as phytotherapy) combines knowledge of traditional plant remedies with modern medical science.
Many conventional medicines are based on chemicals found in plants, but herbalists use whole parts of the plant (such as leaves, berries or roots) as they believe this makes a more ‘balanced’ natural remedy.
As a herbalist, you would treat a patient after looking at their lifestyle, diet and emotional issues as well as the physical symptoms. Your work would involve:
- taking a detailed history of the patient’s symptoms and lifestyle
- carrying out a physical assessment and appropriate tests
- making a diagnosis and prescribing a relevant herbal remedy
- (in some cases) growing and preparing herbs in various forms, including capsules, extracts, ointments or infusions
- advising on wider health and lifestyle issues
- keeping detailed patient notes
- seeing patients for follow-up appointments.
You could specialise in western herbal medicine, or in Chinese or Indian herbal traditions.
Most herbalists are self-employed. This means that you could choose your own working hours, although you may often provide evening and weekend appointments to meet the needs of your patients.
You would usually work from consulting and treatment rooms that may be at your home, an alternative therapy centre, natural health clinic or GP surgery. You may also visit patients in their own homes.
As a self-employed herbalist, income depends on the hours you work and the number of clients you see. You would typically charge an hourly rate of between £30 and £100, plus the cost of any medicines you provide.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
To prepare for work as a medical herbalist, you should complete a degree in herbal medicine approved by the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) or one of the other organisations represented by the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners’ Association (EHTPA).
- National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH)
- European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners’ Association (EHTPA)
To get on to an approved degree, you will typically need at least five GCSEs (A-C) and two A levels including biology. However, alternative qualifications may be accepted and your life experience may also count towards entry. You should discuss exact entry requirements with course providers.
You may find it useful to arrange some work shadowing with a practising herbalist before you begin to study.
Degrees last three years full-time or five or six years part-time. Your studies will include anatomy and physiology, botany, pharmacology, nutrition and conventional medical treatments. Courses also include at least 500 hours of supervised clinical practice with patients.
If you are a trained medical practitioner such as a doctor or nurse, you could take a postgraduate diploma or MSc degree in herbal medicine.
The Department of Health is considering bringing in statutory regulation for medical herbalists, which may have an impact on the education and training of practitioners. For the latest information, check with the NIMH or EHTPA.
Training and Development
Once you have completed a NIMH recognised course, you will be eligible to join NIMH. As a member, you can join their three-year postgraduate training scheme, which involves mentoring, self-assessment and further training courses. The NIMH also offers seminars and research opportunities for members.
You could also choose to register with another association represented by the umbrella organisation, the EHTPA, or one of the mixed complementary therapy professional bodies such as the Institute for Complementary Medicine (which runs the British Register of Complementary Practitioners) or the Complementary Medical Association (CMA). See each organisation’s website for details of their registration and eligibility rules.
You should maintain your skills and knowledge throughout your career, for example by keeping up to date with new research, and attending conferences and short courses. You could also develop skills in related therapies such as homeopathy and Bach flower remedies.
Skills and Knowledge
- the ability to build trust and rapport with patients
- good listening and communication skills
- an understanding and sensitive manner
- an analytical and logical approach to problem solving
- a genuine desire to help people
- the ability to motivate others
- accurate record keeping skills
- knowledge of biology, chemistry, anatomy and conventional medical treatments
- the commercial skills to run your own business.
Interest in herbal medicine and other types of complementary therapy has grown in recent years.
You would usually be self-employed and your success would depend on your reputation and the amount of time and effort you are prepared to put in to build your list of clients and market your business.
You could also choose to create and sell your own herbal remedies.