AHG Guide to Getting an Herbal Education

Our knowledge about herbs is constantly expanding and evolving. Fortunately, opportunities for pursuing an herbal education are also growing and there are now many options for herbal studies.

The challenge for prospective students is how to choose the herbal education programs best suited to their interests and goals. This guide attempts to answer some of the questions we are most frequently asked. Here you’ll find some suggestions for choosing the right program for you, and our recommendation for areas of study that should be part of your herbal education. We hope you’ll find this information helpful, whether you’re planning a career as a practicing herbalist or you just want to know how to use herbs safely and effectively for your family and community.

Please note that the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) does not endorse, evaluate or recommend any specific herb schools or training programs. However we do maintain a list of AHG member schools who have paid a fee to be included in our Directory of Herbal Education.

AHG Education Guidelines

The AHG Education Guidelines are recommendations for areas of study that are the foundation of a comprehensive herbal education. We hope they will help students plan and participate in their herbal education, whether through an in-depth herbal training program, self-study or a combination of educational experiences. They include herbal education topics that represent core competencies needed to safely and effectively practice herbal medicine; and a second section of clinical skills guidelines that outline additional areas of study for students who want to become herbal practitioners. Download the AHG Education Guidelines here.

If you plan to apply for membership as an AHG Registered Herbalist, keep in mind that you are required to have approximately 600 to 800 hours of herbal education, along with about 400 hours of actual clinical experience. See the Criteria for Applying for Registered Herbalist Membership.  

Currently there are quite a few herb schools and training programs offering comprehensive training in some or all of the topics listed here. These schools and programs are just one path to becoming a competent herbalist. Depending on where you live, your resources and the amount of time you have to devote to herbal studies, it may be that your herbal education is comprised of a variety of educational experiences. These may include formal study with various teachers and schools; extensive reading and self-study; attending webinars, workshops, conferences; and clinical mentoring or supervision. All of these options can lead to proficiency in herbalism.

To learn more about both on-site and distance herbal studies programs, start your search with our Directory of Herbal Education. Please note that AHG does not endorse, evaluate or recommend any herb school or training program. In addition to a solid education in herbalism, you will also want to apply your knowledge by working with actual clients. To support you as you build your clinical practice skills, AHG offers a Mentorship Program and Mentor Directory. The Mentorship Program is based on the AHG Handbook of Mentoring Guidelines, a valuable digital resource for student practitioners that includes suggestions for working with a mentor, setting up a practice and various forms that you can download and edit for use in your herbal practice. The handbook is free for AHG members or $10 for non-members.

The Mentor Directory is a list of AHG Registered Herbalists who are available to mentor student practitioners in person, or via phone or video conferencing. The directory includes descriptions of each mentor’s background, their availability, fees and specialty areas. Everyone listed in the directory shares a desire to support other practicing herbalists so feel free to contact them and find out more.

Herbal Education Topics

The topics listed here are those that AHG considers to be important for a well-rounded, comprehensive herbal education. Hours indicated for each topic are approximate and based on education hours as defined below.

Basic Human Sciences (200 hours)
 Anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, medical terminology and basic nutrition.

Materia Medica/Therapeutic Herbalism (400 hours)
 Botanical names, plant families, phytoconstituents, plant parts used, therapeutic actions and applications, indications, contraindications, medicinal preparations, recommended dosing, herb-drug interactions, toxicology and side effects, general review of the literature, historic uses, harvesting and sustainability status, and use with specific populations (e.g. infants, children, the elderly, pregnant or lactating women).

Pharmacy, Pharmacognosy, and Dispensing (80 hours)
 Basic principles of medicine making, plant chemistry and pharmacology, herbal formulation, modes of administration and delivery, maintaining a dispensary, raw material identification, laws regarding labeling and dispensing, and dispensing strategies.

Botany and Plant Identification (60 hours)
 Basic botany and field identification, recognition of common herbs and related toxic species.

History and Philosophy/Introduction to Research (40 hours) 
The philosophy of Western herbalism, the history of American herbalism and other forms of global herbalism. Research to include interpreting historical and scientific data and understanding what constitutes "evidence-based medicine."

Evidence Based and Current Botanical Medicine Research (20 hours)
 Familiarity with the use of research methods to access databases and sources of current research about botanical medicine.

Career Preparation/Practice Development/Ethics (20 hours)
 Ethics, record keeping, professional networking, scope of practice, legal issues (both national and local), confidentiality, small business management and herbal practice promotion and marketing.

AHG Clinical Skills Guidelines

These Guidelines outline the training and skills needed if you want to become an herbal practitioner and build an herbal practice. Clinical hours should be a combination of experience obtained through supervised clinical practice in a formal clinic setting, training program or mentorship (around 100 hours) and independent practice (around 300 hours). A minimum of 400 hours of clinical practice is required before applying for Registered Herbalist membership in the Guild; see the Criteria for Applying for Registered Herbalist Membership for more details.

Clinical Practice and Practitioner Skills Development (400 hours)                                                                       
Intake skills, physical and differential assessment, constitutional analysis, basic laboratory test interpretation, dosing strategies, record keeping, counseling techniques for general wellness, diet, nutrition and emotional well-being, diversity awareness, professionalism, use of informed consent and full disclosure.

Definition of An Education Hour

An education hour is defined as one hour (60 minutes) of study or training gained through one of the methods listed below. To apply for AHG Registered Herbalist membership, all education hours must be documented with the name of your instructor, the title and content of the training, workshop or apprenticeship, focus of any study hours and the title and author of books read.

• Herb classes, programs or workshops (in person or distance learning)
• Formal mentorship with a clinical herbalist (in person or distance learning)
• Herbal apprenticeship
• Webinars and audio recordings about herbal practice topics
• Self-study or homework including reading or research required as part of an herb class
• Self-directed research on herb related topics


Frequently Asked Questions

What sorts of herb 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've already learned. Some programs emphasize a scientific approach, with an emphasis on chemical constituents and phytochemistry, and others take a more Earth-centered approach that includes energetic principles. You will find programs grounded in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda, Western botanical medicine, African medicinal traditions and others.

There is no one path to understanding and using herbal medicines. Our community is very diverse; something that AHG celebrates and welcomes!

Herb schools and course formats are varied; you will find some options in our Directory of Herbal Education. Completion of a course of study in an herb school program does not confer any title such as Master Herbalist or Certified Herbalist.

At this time, there is no licensure or legal recognition for clinical herbalists in the United States. However, completion of most programs will count toward the education 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. Because of the accreditation 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 other specific courses such as anatomy and physiology.

Other privately-run on-site schools offer in-depth one-, two- or three-year programs. While these schools are usually not accredited with any state or educational institution, they can still be a great way to get an herbal education.

The benefits of on-site schools are an interactive environment with access to your instructors, hands-on learning, the support of your student community, and in some cases, clinical training with supervision. 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 also offer the option of accessing recordings at your convenience. Some programs are a combination of distance learning with some on-site sessions that you must travel to attend.

The benefit of these programs is that they allow you to pursue your herbal studies without leaving home and often at your own pace. However, they do require a certain amount of self-discipline and lack the interactive experience of on-site programs. 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.


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 is a good place to start your herbal education if you are interested in herbs and not sure where your journey will take you. They do not provide the comprehensive education needed to actually practice as clinical herbalist but will give you the skills you need to help your friends and family with everyday health issues.


Apprenticeship and Independent Scholarship

A carefully crafted plan of independent scholarship or self-study (which may include some distance learning) combined with a period of clinical training and supervision with qualified practicing herbalists may result in a comprehensive herbal education. We suggest that you review the AHG Education Guidelines for suggestions about what topics should be included.

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 two options are a perfect fit. The benefits are self-directed studies and in the case of apprenticeships, the opportunity for a personalized education with lots of access to another herbalist’s skills and wisdom. Disadvantages include limited exposure to the variety of practitioners that you would encounter in a formal herb school setting, as well as a potential for a lack of comprehensive academic training in basic health sciences and other essential topics. Successful apprenticeships seem to be a combination of compatibility between you and the herbalist you are working with, and a very clear written agreement. We’ve included some suggestions for how to structure an apprenticeship agreement in the AHG Handbook of Mentoring Guidelines.


Frequently Asked Questions


How do I choose an herb program?

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

The emphasis of herb programs can vary from scientific to energetic, or 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’ve described some of the formats for herbal education above. In addition, attending the annual AHG Symposium is a great way 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.  Find details about our next symposium here.

Also, as a member of the American Herbalists Guild you 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.

Which schools are accredited/approved by the AHG?

The AHG is not an accrediting body and does not evaluate any herb schools or training programs. We do maintain a Directory of Herbal Education that includes herb schools and programs that have paid to be included. Using the AHG Education Guidelines, carefully examine the curriculum of the programs you are considering and notice whether they meet all, some, or most of the AHG Education Guidelines and consider your personal or professional goals.

What is the advantage of attending an accredited school?

Attending an accredited school, approved by regional or state accrediting agencies, doesn't necessarily guarantee a better education, nor do its graduate necessarily have professional advantages. The greatest benefits of regional and state accreditation is 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 for specific professional schools, such as the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) for schools of Chinese medicine. Accreditation by a respected accrediting body usually indicates that the school meets accepted educational standards, has fiscal stability and is operating legally.

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 and work/study options. Some banks and credit unions will help with personal educational loans. Caution should be taken with private agencies offering student loans via the Internet.

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

Program costs vary enormously, so much so that we can't give clear parameters for what you can expect to pay. Some shorter courses are priced like workshops, with programs ranging from $400 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 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 no fee or work exchange to a formal rate. Mentorships are usually based on an hourly fee or some other form of exchange.

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 trainings 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.

What sort of careers are available for herbalists? 

Careers in herbalism are varied. Most herbalists are true entrepreneurs earning income from a variety of sources such as clinical practice, teaching, product sales, public speaking and writing.

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 in an integrative health care setting, the practice of herbal medicine is not legally recognized so that can limit these opportunities. In the current climate even licensed health professionals are at risk if they practice or supervise a practitioner of herbal medicine.

Your skills may lead you to pursue work in the herb industry as an herb buyer, formulator, researcher, consultant, retailer, grower, or medicine maker.
If you have an interest in writing or teaching, and have some practical experience to draw from, you may want to consider offering classes or workshops in your community or writing a book.

It is our experience that income for practicing herbalists can range from $20k - $120k per year. Though almost all herbal practitioners report that they supplement their incomes with a variety of professional activities including product sales, teaching, writing, and consulting.

I've found a program that works for me. What do I need to know before I register?

Once you've determined your goals for your herbal studies and narrowed down your program choices, consider the following:

• 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 the classroom. Travel costs are less of a loss than choosing the wrong program!

• If it is a distance learning program, how much student-teacher contact can you expect? Who grades your lessons? 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 should welcome your questions.