How much education does an herbalist need?
The short answer is: it depends. Herbwalkers, as we call them, come in all forms. If you just want to use herbs for your daily life and that of your family then some good books are a great place to start. We’ve recommended some here in the blog, and will continue to do so.
Tips: Always use at least three different books as your resource – if all three say something is safe then it usually is. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet – there’s great information out there but there’s also some pretty inaccurate stuff. Consider who wrote it, why they wrote it, for whom, and what evidence they present to support their claims.
If you want a little more knowlege (i.e. maybe you work in a healthfood store where this would be helpful), or are contemplating becoming a professional herbal practitioner then you may want to look at more advanced courses such as the Chartered Herbalist course offered at Dominion Herbal College (DHC). There are other great courses offered at other colleges, but this is the one I’m most familiar with; being a graduate of theirs. Of course, you may just want to know more for the benefit of your friends and family, and that’s great too!
If you’re certain that you want to become a practicing professional herbalist, or you just want to know even more, you’ll want to take more advanced courses. These courses range in length from 1 to four years depending on which you choose and what school you go to. The CHT course, offered by Dominion Herbal College (DHC), is a four year course. It covers subjects such as: anatomy, physiology, general medicine, differential diagnosis, pathology, nutrition, pharmacy (herbal), physical examination, health history taking, dispensing and compounding, materia medica (a.k.a. the materials of medicine), clinical diagnosis, and many other subjects which aid a good herbalist. Also there are over 500 hours of supervised hands-on clinical work that is required to complete the course; and must be completed to the college’s satisfaction. I chose this this type of course because I wanted to work in an evidence based model, and felt that four years of training allowed for a more thorough understanding than shorter courses. If scientific evidence as well as clinical experience are part of what appeales to you then this is the sort of course for you.
There are many other courses such as, Master Herbalist, Medical Herbalist, Clinical Herbalist, or others offered by herbal schools around the world that would also be great for the person who wants to do this as their career. If you would like more details about many of the herbal courses that are available from different schools click here to visit our Resources pages.
How do I find a good herbalist near where I live?
Go to a professional organization that registers herbalists in your country and see who they have near you. I recommend this way of finding herbalists, even though there are great herbalists that aren’t registered, because it makes it so much easier for you to find someone that is well qualified. These organizations don’t register herbalists unless they meet their education criteria. Not only must they meet their educational requirements but they have a code of ethics, scope of practice, and continuing education requirement too in order to stay registered year after year.
Why is this important?
There are many different types of herbalists. Some, like me, got their training from an accredited college. Each course has different lengths and requirements. Some herbalists get their education passed down to them via herbalist families or by apprenticing with herbalists (admittedly, I’m sometimes a little jealous of people who have had this experience – what a rich experience it must be!). However, I’ve personally had people introduce themselves to me as herbalists who got their education solely from being distributors for multi-level-marketing (MLM) herbal companies. Herbalism is what’s considered an “unregulated industry” in Canada. Meaning that there aren’t stipulated Canadian education requirements. Thus herbalists can be very different, which is both good and bad – we can learn a lot from each other and our diversity, but this can also make it very hard for a person to figure out what they are getting when they consult with a herbalist, and whether or not they are safe using that particular herbalists recommendations.
Tip: Go to the professional associations of this website (here) to learn more about the herbalists nearest you.
What are herbalists allowed to do?
According to the Ontario Herbalists Association herbalism is:
“The practice of herbal medicine is the promotion, maintenance and restoration of an individual’s health primarily through the internal and external use of plant-based medicines. Whole plants or parts thereof may be harvested and processed by the herbalist. Herbal medicines are dispensed in pharmacopoeial and other forms, prepared through simple traditional methods in order to retain the naturally-balanced properties of the plant. The use of other natural health products may also be recommended.
The therapeutic requirements or each person are assessed in a manner consistent with the tradition and training of the individual herbalist. Methods of assessment may include but are not limited to case history,physical examinations and the review of diagnostic test results. Relevant issues including nutrition, exercise, hygiene, environment and stress-management are addressed throughout the consultation process.”
~ from the OHA website
Tip: Go to the Ontario Herbalists Association website to see more about the Code of Practice and Code of Ethics that their herbalists practice under. You can also check out the same thing on other professional herbalist associations websites.
What can a herbalist do for me?
Herbalism, in a nutshell, is the wholistic practice of using herbs, diet, and lifestyle changes to aid your body in becoming more effective at healing itself. This applies to acute or chronic health conditions.
What should I expect when going to a consultation with The Herbwalker?
You should expect to be welcomed warmly, invited to sit down, and perhaps offered some tea or water. The initial consultation can take 2 to 3 hours so make sure that you schedule enough time for that.
The herbalist will ask you a lot of questions about things like your state of current health, what prompted you to come in for a consultation, and your health history. Depending on the situation the herbalist may need to conduct some physical examinations to confirm some questions she may have. Not to worry, she won’t do anything invasive and your privacy is respected. You can check out the Code of Ethics and Scope of Practice for more information.
Usually, but not always, the herbalist will make some recommendations for health improvement at the end of this initial consultation. These may include suggestions for exercise, diet, herbs, supplements, etc.
After your consultation the herbalist then has a lot of homework she does for you. This may include things such as researching drug herb interactions, recent research on herbs for the condition(s) that you have, and recent information about the health conditions you’re experiencing. This homework helps her make better suggestions for your herbal healthcare and safety.
When you pay for a consultation you’re getting much more than just the time you spend face to face with the herbalist.
Why does the first consultation take so long?
A lot of information is needed to take a wholistic look at your health. During the initial consultation the herbalist goes over the main reason for you coming in; in other words the health concern that made you take the trouble to call, get an appointment, and come in to see her. She also goes over all the body systems, including:
- Integumentary (that’s your skin)
The herbalist also goes over your diet and lifestyle, medical history, pharmaceuticals, supplements, stress… Whew! As you can see there’s a lot to cover, and unfortunately that takes precious time.
Your good health is worth the time!
Why is a “Follow-up” consultation so important?
The follow-up is extremely important, both to you and to the craft of herbalism itself.
First, it’s important to you because:
- You can share with the herbalist any concerns that you didn’t remember to ask at the first visit.
- It allows you to discuss any problems that you encountered while trying to follow the suggestions you and the herbalist agreed upon. For example, say you’re taking a herbal remedy three times per day but you’re finding it really difficult to remember or get a chance to take the midday dose because of your busy schedule at work. This gives you and the herbalist a chance to find a better way to take your herbs that fits with your lifestyle.
- Follow up gives you and the herbalist a chance to check on your progress, and make tweaks to your program based on your progress.
Second, it’s important to the craft of herbalism because:
- This allows the herbalist to keep good written records of progress. This results in a much better evidence based approach to herbalism, both for the individual herbalist and for the craft of herbalism in general. It is from records like these that we can advance the acceptance of herbal health care. We do not share your personal information without your express written permission.
Please help us advance the cause of quality evidence based herbal health care!
Do herbs really work?
If you’re thinking that only pharmaceutical drugs work and are “proven” then we have a question for you:
Where do you think the drugs came from?
Most drugs have their origins in plants. Examples of some of the drugs that have been made originally from plant extracts include:
- Acetylsalicylic acid (commonly known as Aspirin)
- Vincristine (used in Chemotherapy for cancer patients)
- Digitalis (for congestive heart failure)
Plants are often studied in order to be able to design drugs based on them. An example of one lately is the work on an antimalarial drug being made from Wormwood.
Many people seem to think of herbs as simply natural replacements for drugs, but that is not a wholistic use of herbs. Wholisic health care involves looking at the whole person and using diet, lifestyle, and herbs to give the body what it needs to restore its own balance. Another nice thing about using plants is that they tend (generally speaking) to have fewer, or more mild, side effects than pharmaceuticals.
Herbs are natural, which means they’re safe, right?
Yes herbs are natural, but not all herbs are safe. Although many plants are quite safe for most people, as long as they don’t have an allergy to them, some plants are very poisonous, while others can become toxic over time with extended use.
Speaking in generalities, herbs traditionally used as tasty teas to drink tend to be quite safe. These are the plants that are great for the beginner herbalist to start working with. You might be surprised what you can do with herbs like peppermint, chamomile, raspberry leaf, and others.
Some herbs are safe only within specified dosages and/or for limited periods of time. These are the ones where it’s best to consult a herbalist who has the experience and knowledge to work with such herbs and the clients taking them.
Tip: Remember, just like with food, people can have allergic reactions to herbal medicines too. Keep this in mind whenever you are trying anything new.
What store do you work in?
This s a question the herbalist gets asked a lot! Probably because people have become accustomed to “health food stores” and their staff giving out advice.
The Herbwalker is both an Herbal Compounding Service and a Clinical practice. It is not simply a store, although there are things available for purchase.
Why are your hours “By Appointment Only”?
By scheduling time with clients we can better insure that you receive the quality attention you deserve. While there are others who help out at The Herbwalker; such as Clinic Students, IT people, and others – currently, the primary day to day work at is run by our herbalist. This involves a wide variety of tasks; as such, we have found that this is the best way to provide you with the kind of service we would wish to receive.
Why did you move out to an acreage?
More and more people have been asking if the herbs we sell are grown by us. Unfortunately, while the practice was in the city there wasn’t opportunity to grow our own. So, we made a huge change by moving it to the acreage. Now we are preparing the existing gardens for growing this year, and new growing areas for next year. Of course, mother nature provides the herbs that we can now spend more time wild-harvesting for you. In this manner we are best able to guarantee our herbs have been responsibly harvested and meet our standards for quality. Although not all herbs can be grown here (or should be) for quality and environmental reasons, we are moving towards growing our own for those that are suited to this climate, and for which we can insure the appropriate standards are met.
Where can I pick up my dispensary orders in person?
Dispensary orders can be picked up from participating herbal and Naturopathic practitioners in the Alberta Beach, Onoway, Edmonton, St Albert, and the western edge of Sherwood Park areas. Check with your practitioner to see if they already have an arrangement with us, and if they don’t, ask them if they would do so.
We deliver to these practitioners on Tuesday each week, except after holiday Mondays, in which case we deliver on Wednesdays.
Alternatively you can still place orders and pay for shipping straight to your door!
Are there any herbalists willing to work with my physician?
We believe both physicians and herbalists have important roles to play in improving health. There are things each is best suited to that the other is not, and they can be very good when used together by people willing to work as a team.
Here at The Herbwalker we believe strongly in working together for the best chance at improving your health. We invite you and your physician to work together as a team to improve your health.
For physicians, naturopaths, and the curious
Our Clinical Herbal Therapist (CHT) adheres to the Scope of Practice mentioned in the sections above, but for you that may be a bit vague for comfort. So the following information may help you:
What is the herbalists Scope of Practice?
A Clinical Herbal Therapist (CHT) has training in differential diagnosis and clinical diagnosis so that we can better evaluate clients and keep them safe, but official diagnosis we leave up to the physicians. Occasionally we may contact you (with the clients permission) saying something like, “we noticed a [sign] during our physical examination, please consider taking a look and see if you think it is a cause for concern?”.
We do many of the same physical examinations physicians do; such as taking blood pressure, looking in the eyes, ears, or nose. We do auscultation, percussion, and palpation too, but are not allowed to perform any invasive procedures.
CHTs tend to perform very thorough health histories, which could be helpful in a teamwork situation since herbalists can spend more time collecting detailed information which is generally not possible for the busy physician; who may also be frustrated that they can’t afford to spend more time with each of their patients.
Does The Herbwalker take drug herb interactions seriously?
Yes, we take drug herb interactions quite seriously, thus we double check drug herb interactions whenever we consider recommending herbs to a client that is already taking medications and/or supplements.
Sometimes we may recommend a herb for which you, their physician, may have a concern. In such cases we are willing to discuss our reasoning (with the client’s written permission). It is important to realize that the drug herb interactions most physicians have a reference to are so often based on theories or are frequently based on single adverse events where the herb wasn’t accurately identified as the cause, while others are quite legitimate concerns. This is where teamwork can be so helpful!
Does a Clinical Herbal Therapist (CHT) know anything about pathology or physiology?
We can’t speak for all herbalists, but we can tell you that CHTs are trained in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacy (herbal), pharmacokinetics, general medicine, materia medica, therapeutics, history taking, physical examination, chemistry, nutrition, and urinalysis. Training to become a CHT takes four years and includes over 500 hours of supervised clinic experience, where students work hands on with clients and other components of what it takes to run a practice from day to day.
Why might a physician want to work with or consult a herbalist?
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, “more than 70% of Canadians regularly use complementary and alternative health care therapies such as vitamins and minerals herbal products, homeopathic medicines and other natural health products to stay healthy and improve their quality of life.” That means there’s a good chance most of your patients are using herbs for their health, whether they tell you or not!
This can be a serious problem in some circumstances. We can be your “go to” resource for good herbal information. We can work with you as a team for the betterment of your patients/our clients health… with the clients permission of course. Besides, if your client is going to take herbs anyway, don’t you want them getting their herbal information from a reliable source?
How can I find a knowledgeable herbalist to recommend my patients to?
The best way to find a knowledgeable herbalist in your area is to go to a professional organization that registers herbalists. These organizations vet herbalists and require them to adhere to a code of ethics and practice as well as having continuing education requirements for their herbalists. You can click here for a list of many of these organizations.
What can The Herbwalker do for naturopaths?
As a Naturopath you may carry your own preferred products in your practice. However, sometimes you have clients for whom you’d like something tailor made. That is where we come in. Perhaps your client has an allergy, or they need their herbal remedy applied differently than is commonly available in the products you carry. We can:
- Fill capsules with a dried powdered herb formula of your design
- Create oxymels or syrups of your design
- Make salves with the ingredients you choose
- Make skin creams with the ingredients you choose
- Make tincture formulas with the ingredients you choose
- Mix poultices and fomentations with the ingredients and instructions you choose
- Make custom herbal liniments
Custom compounding also gives you a second set of eyes checking for possible drug herb and herb health-condition interactions, which helps you keep your clients safer.