Herbal Education FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

1. What sorts of herbalism programs are available?

The short answer is there are lots to choose from. If you are an herbal beginner, look for basic introductory programs. Those with previous herbal training may find advanced clinical programs just what they need to apply what they have already learned. Some programs emphasize a scientific approach, with an emphasis on chemical constituents and phytochemistry, and others take a more traditional or energetic approach. You will find programs from around the globe, including those that focus on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda, Western botanical medicine, African traditions, and others.

There is no one path to becoming an herbalist and course formats and learning outcomes vary. You will find some options in our Directory of Herbal Education. PLEASE NOTE: Some herbal schools or programs may award the titles of Master Herbalist or Certified Herbalist upon completion of their courses. These qualifications are NOT recognized by any state or federal entity nor are they endorsed by the American Herbalists Guild.

At this time, there is no licensure or legal recognition for professional clinical herbalists in the United States. However, the completion of most programs, and/or a thorough course of independent study can count towards the educational requirements needed to apply for Registered Herbalist membership in the American Herbalists Guild.

  • Comprehensive On-Site Schools: You can get a master’s degree (MS) in herbal sciences from various accredited universities in the United States and abroad. When applying for an accredited program it is possible to finance tuition for these programs with various types of student loans. Master’s programs require you to have already completed a bachelor’s degree and possibly other specific courses such as anatomy and physiology. Other private on-site schools offer in-depth one-, two- or three-year programs. It is important to note that national accreditation is in no way any measure of the quality of an education. Non-accredited schools can be a great way to get an herbal education.
  • The benefits of any on-site program include an interactive environment with access to instructors, hands-on learning, the support of your student community, most require you to live near the school which may mean moving to attend.
  • Distance Learning/Online Programs and Classes: More and more options for distance learning and online classes and programs are now available. They range from introductory herb classes to advanced clinical topics. Some require you to 'attend' live streamed classes while others may offer the option of accessing recordings at your convenience. Some programs are a combination of distance learning with some on-site sessions.
  • A benefit of these programs is that they allow you to pursue your herbal studies without leaving home and often at your own pace. Both online and distance learning programs require a different type of self-discipline as compared to an on-site program. While they may lack a face-to-face experience, they may be often more affordable and can offer opportunities to build strong community ties. When considering these programs, be sure to find out how much access you have to the instructors and the types of feedback they provide their students. We suggest talking to graduates, instructors, and others.
  • Shorter Programs and Classes: Some herb schools offer 6- to 10-month on-site programs that meet weekly or monthly (for example, one weekend per month). These shorter programs typically offer a foundational or introductory level of herbal education. This may be a good place to start your herbal education if you are interested in herbs and not sure where your journey will take you. Likely they may provide you with the skills you need to help your friends and family with general herbal support.
  • Apprenticeship and Independent Study: A carefully crafted plan of independent study or self-study (which may include some distance learning) combined with a period of clinical training and supervision with qualified practicing herbalists can result in a comprehensive herbal education. We suggest that you review the AHG Education Guidelines for suggestions about what topics should be included. For an example of independent study documentation see Independent Study Documentation Resource.
  • The apprenticeship model works well for many. Be sure you have a clear agreement that outlines what you will learn, the amount of time to be spent in training, any fees or other work trade obligations, a specific timeline for the apprenticeship and a description of expectations and educational goals.
For some, these latter two options are a perfect fit. The benefits are self-directed study and in the case of apprenticeships, the opportunity for a personalized education. Disadvantages might include limited exposure to the variety of practitioners and a lack of comprehensive training that one might encounter in other educational settings; a healthy herbal education should encompass a variety of perspectives and students should seek to enrich their apprenticeship experiences through independent study and classes from multiple herbalists. 

2. How do I choose an herbal program?

Herbal training programs vary widely so before embarking on your search you should have some idea about your goals. Some programs are geared towards those working towards a career in herbalism, often as practitioners, while others are designed to teach you the basics of herbalism so you can confidently and safely use herbs to help yourself and your family.

Emphases of herbal programs vary from scientific to energetic and can certainly include a bit of both. Some focus on forms of traditional herbal medicine that use specific paradigms for assessing health and wellness and types of herbs or materia medica; examples include Western botanical medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), African Traditional Medicine, Ayurveda and others.

We have described some of the formats for herbal education above. In addition, regular involvement with the AHG, attending webinars and as well as the annual AHG Symposium, and other symposia around the country, are great ways to learn from a variety of teachers speaking on a wide range of topics. This can also be an opportunity to experience the teaching styles of herbal educators who offer in-depth courses. In addition, general members of the American Herbalists Guild have access to hundreds of free lecture recordings from past symposia as well as many AHG sponsored webinars. Learn more about AHG member benefits here.

3. Which schools are accredited/approved by the AHG?
No school is either accredited or approved by the AHG. The AHG is not an accrediting body nor does it evaluate any herbal school or training program. We do maintain a Directory of Herbal Education that includes herb schools and programs that have paid to be listed. Each school has its own unique educational approach and herbal focus. Using the AHG Education Guidelines, carefully examine the curricula that you are considering while keeping your personal and professional goals in mind.

4. What is the advantage of attending an accredited school?

Attending an accredited school, approved by regional or state accrediting agencies, does not guarantee a higher quality education, nor do its graduates necessarily have any professional advantages. The sole benefits of attending a regionally or state accredited program are the potential for getting financial aid and the acceptance of credit hours at other educational institutions. An accredited school should clearly state in its literature who has conferred their accreditation status.

Professional groups may also provide accreditation and/or endorsement for specific professional schools, such as the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) for schools of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Accreditation by a respected accrediting body usually indicates that the school meets accepted educational standards, has fiscal stability, and is operating legally.

5. Is there any financial aid available for herbal studies?

Financial aid for tuition costs comes in many forms such as Pell Grants, Guaranteed Student Loans, and educational benefits from military service. However, these programs are only available to schools accredited by bodies recognized by the Federal Department of Education. Individual herb schools may offer their own financial aid programs, payment plans, scholarships, and work/study options. Some banks and credit unions may help with personal educational loans.

6. What can I expect the cost of an herbal education to be?

Program costs vary enormously. Some shorter courses are priced like workshops, with programs ranging from $50 to $1500. Comprehensive distance learning or on-site programs can range from $4,000 - $14,000 a year for full-time courses and may require 2 - 3 years of full-time study. These costs are approximations and do not include additional expenses such as books, supplies, and cost of living. Costs of apprenticeship vary according to the teacher and may range from sliding-scale, donation-based, or work exchange, to a formal rate. Mentorships are often based on an hourly fee.

7. How do I gain clinical training?

Some herb schools offer supervised clinical training as part of their program. However, it is possible to work with a mentor or attend intensive clinical skills training workshops offered by accomplished practitioners. To learn more about these options, consult the AHG Directory of Herbal Education, download the Mentorship Guidelines or look for a mentor in our Mentor Directory.

8. What sort of careers are available for herbalists?

Careers in herbalism vary. Most herbalists are true entrepreneurs earning income from a variety of sources such as clinical practice, teaching, product sales, public speaking, and writing. Your skills may lead you to pursue work in the herb industry as an herb buyer, formulator, researcher, consultant, retailer, grower, or herbal product maker.

For those interested in clinical practice, getting practical experience working with other health care professionals may be a good next step. While there are some opportunities for working within an integrative healthcare setting, the practice of herbal medicine is not legally recognized and as such these types of opportunities are limited.

9. I've found a program that works for me. What do I need to know before I register?
Once you've determined your goals and narrowed down your program choices, consider the following action steps:

  • Request a sample lesson. Do you like the presentation of the materials? Is it easy to understand and well organized? Does it meet your educational expectations?
  • Ask to speak to recent graduates.
  • If it is an on-site school, pay a visit, meet the teachers, and ask to see a classroom. Getting a feel for the learning environment can be a critical step in choosing the right program for you.
  • If it is a distance learning program, how much student-teacher contact can you expect? Who evaluates your work? How quickly are materials evaluated and returned? How easy is it to reach a teacher for help with lessons or to answer questions?
  • Find out what credential or certificate is conferred upon completion, what is required to get the certificate, and what its significance is.
  • Carefully review teacher qualifications.
  • Be sure you understand all costs: tuition, additional expenses for supplies, books, field trips, on-site lodging, etc. Ask to see refund policies.
  • Find out about grading policies and grievance procedures.
  • Be a discriminating consumer. A reputable school or training program will welcome your questions.