The Job and What's Involved

A herbalist (sometimes called a medical herbalist or a phytotherapist) uses plant-based remedies to treat a range of ailments and to improve well being. Herbalists see patients with a wide range of conditions, including:

- Skin problems
- Digestive disorders
- Problems of the heart and circulatory system
- Allergies
- Autoimmune conditions
- Respiratory problems
- Arthritis
- Insomnia
- Menstrual problems
- Emotional and stress- related problems
- Genito-urinary conditions
- Chronic pain
- Coughs, colds and sinusitis

Herbalists take a "holistic" approach, taking into account the patient's whole lifestyle and medical history including physical, psychological and spiritual factors, rather than just the symptoms of the specific ailment. A herbalist might:

  • Offer advice about diet, lifestyle and emotional factors.
  • Carry out a physical examination including eyes, ears, throat and blood pressure.
  • Take samples and send them away for diagnostic tests.
  • Diagnose various conditions with the help of the internet.
  • Choose and prepare a remedy tailored to the patient's particular needs.
  • Refer the patient on to other specialists.
  • Monitor the patient's progress, through phone calls or follow-up sessions.
  • Use a computer to keep records, manage accounts and research developments in herbal medicine.

Herbal medicine combines the traditional use of medicinal plants with the latest scientific knowledge about the chemical make-up of plants. Conventional medicines may use only one chemical element of a plant. Herbal remedies are generally extracts from the whole plant or part of a plant: the flowers, the leaves, the roots, the bark, the berries, the buds and the stems. They contain a range of chemicals, which naturally occur together. Herbalists believe this makes the remedy work in a more balanced way.

Although some herbalists, when practising in the western world, focus on remedies derived from plants found locally, Chinese herbal medicine is growing in popularity in the West. Other traditions of herbal medicine practised in the UK include Tibetan and Indian (ayurveda).

A herbalist may offer a remedy in one of several different forms, including:

  • Tablet, for swallowing or chewing.
  • Syrup - particularly suitable for children.
  • Powder, in loose or capsule form.
  • Ointment for external application.
  • A compress or poultice: a cloth soaked in a herbal infusion applied to the affected part of the body.
  • Decoction, prepared by boiling or soaking hard plant material such as bark.
  • Steam inhalation.
  • Gargle or mouthwash,
  • Pessaries or suppositories.
  • Tincture - made with glycerine, alcohol or vinegar.
  • Emetic preparation (to induce vomiting).

Herbalists first see the patient for a session of an hour or more. Depending on the patient and their condition, they may have further consultations.

Most herbalists work flexible hours: part-time during the day but with appointments also in the evenings and weekends for their clients' convenience.

Most herbalists are self-employed. They work from their homes or in a clinic within a health centre, hospital or alternative therapy centre. They may work from different locations and also travel to visit patients at home.

Most herbalists charge consultation fees rate ranging from £30 to £50 an hour depending on how well established the practice is. They usually charge extra for the herbal remedies.

A self-employed herbalist would have to cover expenses such as the cost of the remedies and indemnity insurance.

For a self-employed herbalist earnings are initially low. A newly-qualified herbalist may earn up to £6,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Although herbal medicine has been practised for centuries, the modern interest in Western herbal medicine mainly dates from the revival of interest in all forms of alternative therapies which occurred in the late 20th century.

Most herbalists are self-employed. A few work in retail, selling herbal remedies.

Education and Training

At present, herbalists are not regulated by the government, but may be in the future. Training courses are currently accredited by various professional associations: the two main ones being the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) and the European Herbal and Traditional Practitioners Association (EHTPA). The EHTPA is an umbrella group of which the NIMH is a member.

The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) also accredits some courses in Chinese Herbal Medicine.

To be eligible for membership of one of these professional bodies, a student must graduate from a course accredited by the relevant body.

BSc (Hons) degree courses in western herbal medicine or phytotherapy or Chinese herbal medicine which are accredited by both the NIMH and the EHTPA are offered by:

  • Middlesex University
  • The University of Westminster
  • The University of Lincoln (provisionally accredited)

Degree courses accredited by NIMH are offered by:

  • Napier University, Edinburgh
  • The Scottish School of Herbal Medicine
  • The University of Central Lancashire
  • The University of East London (a degree programme by distance or 'blended' learning)

Degree courses accredited by the EHTPA are offered by:

  • College of Integrated Chinese Medicine
  • College of Traditional Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
  • Northern College of Acupuncture

Most degree courses last three years full time or five years part time (in Scotland, four years full time).

Entry requirements vary. As a guide, two or three A levels including biology or human biology and chemistry, or equivalent qualifications, may be required.

Qualified healthcare professionals may earn credits for their previous experience on specially structured courses.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

The EHTPA has developed a core curriculum for training providers to follow when delivering an accredited course. Successful completion enables graduates to join one or more professional associations of their choice in a number of herbal traditions, such as Chinese medicine or Ayurveda.

To qualify for professional association membership, students must also complete at least 450 hours of supervised clinical practice within approved training clinics. Some associations have additional requirements for membership.

After graduating, practitioners can benefit from mentoring and are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). For example, NIMH-accredited graduates enter a three-year scheme of training and mentoring.

Several of the institutions that offer first degrees in herbal medicine also run postgraduate degrees and diplomas.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A herbalist needs to have:

  • The ability to listen attentively to patients' problems.
  • Good communication skills, for explaining treatments.
  • A good memory to retain details of herbal remedies.
  • A meticulous approach to detail and measurement.
  • A sympathetic, approachable manner.

Your Long Term Prospects

For self-employed herbalists, career progression comes through building up their practice and gaining a reputation. They might also open a shop selling herbal products, work as an adviser for a herbal product manufacturer or move into the field of research and development.

There may be opportunities to teach.

Get Further Information

European Herbal and Traditional
Medical Practitioners' Association (EHTPA),
25 Lincoln Close, Tewkesbury, Glos GL20 5TY
Tel: 01684 291605
Website: www.ehpa.eu

The International Register of Consultant Herbalists
and Homeopaths, Birch Leaf Clinic, 1 Institute Row,
Townshend, Cornwall TR27 6AQ
Tel: 01736 850941
Website: www.irch.org

National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH),
Elm House, 54 Mary Arches Street, Exeter EX4 3BA
Tel: 01392 426022
Website: www.nimh.org.uk

The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health,
33-41 Dallington Street, London EC1V 0BB
Tel: 020 3119 3100
Website: www.fih.org.uk

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