What is an herbalist anyway?

Did you know that anyone in the United States may call themselves an herbalist? While this is indeed true, and herbalism will hopefully continue to be unregulated and “the people’s medicine”, it also means that there is no standard body of knowledge or experience needed for one to confer upon themselves such a title. (NOTE: A Registered Herbalist must meet particular qualifications to use that title.)

So, what skills should an herbalist possess? They may, or may not, have learning, training, education, and/or experience in one or all of the following:

– Materia Medica

– Indications & Contraindications

– Drug interactions

– Energetics Of plants

– Energetics Of people

– Evidence-based herbalism

– Special populations: infants, children, elderly, frail, ill, pregnant, lactating

– Gardening

– Foraging

– Sustainability

– Medicine making

– Aromatherapy

– Flower essences

– Nutrition / Functional foods

– Dietary supplements

– Adaptogens, or other specific classes of herbs

– Sustainability

– Cosmetic formulation

– Botanical chemistry

– Botany & plant identification

– Hygiene theory, Terrain theory

– Psychoneuroimmunology

– Western, Chinese, Ayurvedic views of wellness

– Aromatic Medicine

– Hydrotherapy

– Poisons, toxic substances, abortifacient, etc.

– Ethics

– Intake forms, follow-up, personal information security

– Legal requirements

– other related fields such as massage, reflexology, homeopathy, mindfulness

Essentially, an herbalist encourages the body to do what it was created to do using plants and their extracts. However, a professional herbalist must know much more about legal, ethical, and health-related matters which are not necessary to the home herbalist.

Additionally, an herbalist must have a good understand of what they know and what they do not know; this is what professionals call “the scope of practice”. For example, I have no education nor experience in Ayurvedic healing, it is completely out of my scope of practice to suggest an Ayurvedic remedy to anyone for any reason, however, I will point them toward another herbalist who does have that knowledge. Recently, an individual was selling “elderberry syrup” online. Her beautiful photo, accompanied by a description of the benefits of elderberries, was of a bottle of dark purple liquid adjacent to a spray of berries which she had presumably foraged for her syrup. Unfortunately, the berries were not elder (Sambucus nigra); they were poke (Phytolacca americana). Poke is indeed a powerful remedy, but it is most certainly not interchangeable with Elder, and it has some rather serious potential toxicity when prepared improperly as well as being contraindicated during pregnancy. Poke is not a home-use herb!

Lastly, beyond all of the education, experience, and skill, an herbalist ought to be kind, courteous, confident, and most importantly, humble.

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