Herbalists treat patients using plant-based remedies and other treatments. Responsibilities typically include:
- undertaking patient consultations to diagnose illnesses and conditions, and to select appropriate remedies
- gaining information from patients about previous physical/medical history and symptoms
- making physical assessments
- planning and explaining treatment requirements
- liaising with and making referrals to specialists or other health care practitioners
- providing advice about diet, exercise and lifestyle
- keeping accurate and confidential patient records
- keeping up-to-date with new research and developments in the profession
- managing stock levels
- marketing and promoting the business
- growing and producing herbal remedies
Most herbalists are self-employed, working full or part-time from home or from their own practice. Many work as part of a team of alternative health practitioners for private practices such as specialist and complementary health care clinics and herbal dispensaries. If you are a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) you can list your services on the website.
Herbalists may move into teaching or research when they have gained experience.
There is currently no statutory regulation of herbalists in the UK. However, discussions about how to regulate herbal medicine in future are ongoing.
You can qualify as a medical herbalist by studying for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in herbal medicine approved by the NIMH or another organisation represented by the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners’ Association (EHTPA). You can apply for membership of NIMH if you have completed one of its accredited qualifications. NIMH has also developed a procedure to consider applicants who have not completed an accredited course but have relevant experience.
Undergraduate herbal medicine courses take three to four years of full-time study to complete. When applying for postgraduate study, undergraduate qualifications in pharmacy, physiology, anatomy, biology, pharmacology, medicine and botany are of benefit.
Pre-entry experience gained working in a clinic or dispensary is helpful, as is experience of shadowing local herbalists.
It is necessary to have a good understanding of anatomy and physiology, in addition to detailed knowledge of herbs and their preparation. Excellent interpersonal, listening and communication skills are essential when dealing with patients. As herbalists are often self-employed, strong business skills and organisational ability are of benefit. Herbalists also need to possess a mature, confident, sensitive and resilient temperament.