This article was originally written for HerbMentor.com, which offers a wonderful herbal education in itself! I haven't edited the original content very much so you will see frequent references to this site. This isn't meant to be an overt advertisement, but rather the actions of a lazy blogger! I wrote the article because people were frequently asking in the HerbMentor.com forums, “Which herbal school should I go to?”
We are in the middle of an herbal resurgence here in North America. High quality schools and teachers are popping up all over. Many of these schools offer long distance learning, opening up people’s choices considerably.
With so many great herbal schools out there the choice can be daunting!
I have attended six different herbal schools. My experiences have ranged from completely fantastic to deeply frustrating. This experience has shown me that there is a lot more to choosing a school than meets the eye.
Some things to consider…
1. What do you want to learn?
There are so many different aspects of herbalism.
Some people want to learn to grow or wildcraft their own herbs for medicine making. Some people want to know how to help their friends and family with common complaints. Some want to be educators. Other people want to have a more formal herbal practice and work with serious health issues in a more clinical setting.
Some people want to learn about chemical constituents and science-based herbalism. Others want to learn more about traditional methods of herbalism. Some want to learn more about nutrition. Others want to learn from the worldwide materia medica while others want to only learn about herbs in their back yard.
An example is while I wanted to become an herbal consultant, John Gallagher of LearningHerbs.com wanted to focus on local plants and home remedy making. Therefore, a local and small herbal apprenticeship that met monthly was perfect for he and his wife Kimberly. For me, I have chosen programs that are more focused on how to work with people with serious or chronic diseases.
I suggest that you think about what you really want to learn; what your goals are; what you want to be doing with the knowledge you learn in a year from now, five years from now?
A tip might be to flesh out your learning goals by writing them down. What are your dreams? Start there!
I want to add that if you are unsure what you future might hold, starting with any shorter program or even simply focusing on HerbMentor for a few years is the PERFECT place to start.
Don’t forget that HerbMentor can be a home study course in itself if you want it to be. Simply watch John’s “Welcome” video again for ideas.
2. How do you learn?
In North America we have a plethora of long distance and on-site herbal programs to choose from and they all have different learning formats.
Do you learn well from simply reading course materials? Is it better if you have regular assignments that you get feedback on? Do you learn better from audio presentations or visual presentations? How much interaction do you need/want with the instructors and/or fellow students? How much time do you have to devote to herbal studies? Do you want to be involved with your studies every day or from time to time? Do you need/want deadlines?
3. How much $$$ do you want to spend?
Finances can play a large role in any decision. There are lots of cheap herbal schools out there, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily good. There are lots of expensive herbal schools out there, but THAT doesn’t mean they are necessarily good. Figure out your budget and when choosing your school be sure to get all the costs up front. Are additional supplies necessary? Books? Does the school require travel or on-site participation?
While finances certainly can play a major role in deciding where to study, don’t make it the ONLY criteria for where to study. Know what you want and then find a high quality school that offers what you are seeking at your price range.
4. Gather information about schools and teachers that meet your criteria.
Learn more about the head instructors. Have they written books? Presented at conferences? Written articles? What experience do they have? Learn what you can about who you would be learning from. Your herbal teacher will influence you for the rest of your life. Seek someone with wisdom who inspires you!
Of course every month John interviews an herbalist on HerbMentor Radio; be sure to check out the archives! We have gotten a lot of feedback from herbalists that have said some of their new students have come from our radio interviews. It’s a great way to “meet your future mentor.” All the websites of the herbalist’s John has interviewed are on the Web Resources page. Many have live and home study courses.
Please keep in mind that although we try to only list the schools we are confident in, we can’t guarantee a great experience at programs outside of HerbMentor.com. Having a good experience depends on many factors, such as if you’re keeping up with the assignments and participating in group discussions, etc.
Also, please understand that we are sure that there are many great schools that we have not listed, simply from not knowing about them.
5. What do others say?
Once you have some schools in mind, get in touch with some of the current/past students to hear what they thought of the program. What were their expectations? Were those expectations met with this school? What was their favorite aspects of the school? What were their least favorite aspects? What did they find most rewarding/challenging?
Ask questions in public forums for people to share their experiences with their school. You can also directly contact the school to find someone to talk to, keeping in mind they’ll probably hand-select someone who is going to have an overall positive experience. Ask tough questions and talk to more than one person.
Here are some other questions I see people often wondering about.
What is a Master Herbalist?
I would like to think that a master herbalist is someone who has studied and practiced herbalism for decades. While we never truly "master" herbalism, this can be a term bestowed onto herbalists who have committed their lives to herbalism.
Unfortunately the term master herbalist has been used as a marketing tool for various schools. This term is given to people after doing short stints of study. Some schools give it after a couple years of study. The point is when someone uses that title after their name it doesn't really mean anything because there is no set requirement for getting that title.
I am not saying that someone who chooses to call them self a master herbalist is a bad herbalist. More I am saying it doesn't automatically mean they are a "master" herbalist.
I would not recommend choosing your school because you get a master herbalist certificate after graduating.
How do I get an herbal license? What schools are accredited?
Herbalism is not a licensed profession (with the exception of some acupuncture schools licensing Chinese Herbalism within an acupuncture degree).
Because of this it is not necessary to go to an accredited school unless you want to use grants, qualify for loans or get your college degree. Generally the accredited schools cost tens of thousands of dollars while non-accredited schools cost a fraction of that.
If you are not interested in a college degree or using grants then I think it's more important to find a school that offers the information you are seeking from a teacher or teachers that you resonate with than to go to an accredited school.
If you are interested in become a clinical herbalist and would one day like to be eligible for professional membership within the AHG then see their guide for herbal education here.
Still not sure?
Perhaps you have a good idea of what you want to learn and how you want to learn it but aren’t sure which schools meet those criteria. Please share your thoughts in the HerbMentor.com forums and we can all help you brainstorm some schools to look into.
Also, if you’re unsure, spend some time working on courses on this site, such as Herbal Basics and Learning Your Plants, etc. Even if you simply do the some study guide and study the Featured Herb on HerbMentor.com, you will be learning quite a lot. Perhaps as time goes on, you’ll connect more with your herbal passions.
I hope this guide helps you to expand your herbal studies and meet your learning goals. Do you have thoughts and experiences to share? I love getting comments!