Getting Started Learning Herbal Medicine: How to Become an Herbalist

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

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Herbal medicine is a great skill set to learn, for many reasons. I have always had a fascination with alternative medicine, as my grandmother is a very holistic person. Recently, I decided I would take the dive into officially studying the craft.


Getting started was not tough, as becoming an herbalist is typically through self-study. There's not an official "accrediting" agency for herbalists, or herbal programs, for that matter, so there's no guarantee a program/class will grant better results than self-study. I decided to take the self-study route.


To begin my self-study route, I copied the AHG(American Herbalist's Guild) recommended learning guidelines. I'm able to find all the classes I've needed, so far, on a great FREE website(this is not a paid promotion, I just really love them) called Khan Academy. They're a non-profit and provide free content in several subjects from kindergarten through college. They're also on YouTube.


I specifically love their program, because they provide classes in several easy to understand formats. There's videos, with completely broken-down steps, plus actual articles to read through for a more in-depth understanding. They're free and such a great resource for base-classes.


The biggest thing I learned about herbal medicine, is that you're more-so learning how herbs impact the human body, rather than "healing," as a physician would. It's important to remember to avoid impersonating a doctor, but the AGH has some information on this. To learn the impact herbs may have, one must learn how the human body works and functions.


While Khan Academy has excellent base information, even great anatomy classes, YouTube was my go-to for anatomy, especially internal anatomy. The Tube has actual free med-school anatomy classes, autopsies, dissections and endoscopic procedures where anatomy is explained in full, if you can stomach them. Full warning, these videos can be graphic, but there are also non-graphic videos/demonstrations available using graphics or models.

The "college" of YouTube also offers classes from actual doctors, explaining the function of each part of the organ. It really changed my perspective on understanding herbal medicine, and my own health, when I began to understand the functions of different organs. Obviously, I knew the basics, like stomach=digestion, kidneys=filter, but to actually see and study the human body functioning like this really changed my understanding of our bodies. It changed the way I understood an herb's impact on the human body.


I'm nowhere near done with my hours, but I have not stopped reading about herbal medicine. I have to say I completely recommend this book, even if you don't want to dive nose-first into studying like I did:

Backyard Medicine

I love this book. With many herbal/holistic/alternative medicine books, they only cover common herbs, or a specific area. The problem with this is that it's difficult to find herbal medicine books native to specific areas, but the "common" herbs aren't common, everywhere.


With this book, the authors cover a wide variety of common herbs in most parts of the United States. This means you're more likely to find the herbs native to your local area! In fact, I learned about medicinal plants I have been mowing over as weeds, but now I'll be picking! (I'm looking at you, Dandelions.)


Backyard Medicine has bright, full-color photos of each plant, along with nice sturdy pages. It's perfect for taking along on hikes, out in the field, or drying plants in!

herbal medicine book, blackberries

Not only do the wonderful authors of this book cover the medicinal properties of these plants, they cover basic recipes for each one! It truly is an in-depth guide and easy to understand for the beginner herbalist. It's only $14, which is a STEAL compared to some of those aforementioned books, which can hit the $50+ range.


You can buy this book, here.


Now that you know where you can find some great resources for beginning your herbal medicine education, I recommend mapping out a study-plan to align with your goals. Herbal medicine covers a wide variety of topics, but mapping those topics out, with a study plan, will help you in your journey to becoming an herbalist.


I follow AGH's recommended hours for their recommended topics. I'm self-studying, so I just keep track of my hours in a spreadsheet, separated by categories. I'm fascinated by anatomy, pharmacology and medical-related topics, so I wanted to add in a few related topics to study, and that's what I did. I also have included some basic classes I wanted to brush up on, plus a few others. I firmly believe you can never learn too much. Here's what my study plan looks like:


I took the recommended topics from the AGH and added extra topics, plus broke down the hours to spend on each topic. This way, I will have a more solid plan to get started. I then added in the extra topics/classes I want to learn about.


I think it's important to note, I'm not taking these classes in any specific order. I do mix it up.


These are extra classes I am taking based on my own desire to learn them. Some are basic courses I need a brush-up on, but others take the recommended topics to a deeper level. Here's my learning plan(outside of the AHG guidelines):


The Basics

I'm almost ten years out of high school, so I reviewed some of these on a high-school level. I really wanted to start off with my basics down pat. This is pretty much a list of these classes I have taken or will take through Khan Academy.

Biology

Intro into Biology

Biology Foundations

Water, Acids and Bases

Properties of Carbon

Macromolecules

Elements of Life

Photosynthesis

Energy an Enzymes

Structure of a Cell

More about Cells

Cells

Cell Structure and Function

Cell Energetics

Cellular Respiration

Cell Communications

Cell Signaling

Energy and Transport

Reproduction and Cell Division

Cell Division

DNA as the Genetic Material

Classical Genetics

Molecular Genetics

Heredity

Gene Expression

Gene Regulation

Biotechnology

Developmental Biology

Bacteria and Archaea

Viruses

Ecology

More about Ecology

Biodiversity and Conservation

Behavioral Biology

Human Biology

Plant Biology


Chemistry Atoms, Compounds and Ions

Chemical Reactions

Electronic Structure of Atoms

Periodic Table

Chemical Bonds

Chemical Equilibrium

Acids and Bases

Buffers, Titrations

Redox Reactions

Structure and Bonding

Resonance and Acid-Base

Alkanes, Cycloalkanes

Stereochemistry

Substitution and Elimination

Alkenes and Alkynes

Alcohols, Ethers, Epoxides

Conjugates Systems

Aromatic Compounds

Aldehydes and Ketones

Carboxylic Acids

Alpha Carbon Chemistry

Amines

Spectroscopy


Physics

You're probably hardcore questioning me about this one, but physics will help you understand how the human body functions, better. Plus, it was pretty fun to review.

One-Dimensional Motion

Two-Dimensional Motion Forces and Newton’s Laws

Oscillations and Mechanicals

Kinetics


Math

This doesn't seem relative, but it is important when learning dosing and record keeping.

Statistics and Probability

Algebra (fractions, decimals)

Calculus (differential and integral)

History: (Khan Academy)

In the AHG guidelines, they recommend studying herbal medicine from many cultures. I wanted to take this a step further by not only brushing up on history, but understanding how these people lived their daily lives. I believe this will help me to better understand their methods.

Early Europe and Colonial

Later Europe and Americas

Indigenous America

Africa

West and Central Asia

South, East and Southeast Asia


Outside the Basics

Horticulture

Pest Management

Plant Cultivation

Controlled Environment Agriculture

*specifically organic methods


+++ I'm studying the AHG recommended guidelines. You can find those, here. I can't copy and paste those, but they are the meat of what I am studying. Their website has some pretty great information for any new herbalist, as well.


I do have other topics included for my own, personal research. I'm interested in studying how medicinal plants and a holistic diet truly impact different diseases, but again, that's for my own research. I jotted down a few key issues I'm wanting to study about and researching those more in-depth.


The key is to think about your goals with herbal medicine. Are you interested in learning to make a few teas or would you like to one day build your own herbal store? When you decide on your goals, you can map out a learning plan easier and add topics accordingly. I decided I wanted a firm understanding of how herbs(and diet/lifestyle!) not only impact the human body, but change diseases.


I've read so many stories from others who have completely changed lives with herbal medicine. Here's a hopeful story of a woman recovered from Dementia by changing her diet, and with a little research, you'll find several similar stories.


These stories inspire me to pursue herbal medicine to the deepest understanding I can find. Yes, these "extra" topics seem like a lot, but I want to learn herbal medicine in depth. The more I understand, the more fascinated I become.


I'll never stop learning as an herbalist. I think after I'm all said and "done" with my "program," I'll still reflect back on my notes and rewatch a lot of the old content. There's constant discoveries about the human body and the way plants impact our bodies, which will make herbal medicine a topic to forever learn about.


For me, I wanted an in-depth understanding of this topic. You may not and that's OK. I still recommend Backyard Medicine for someone with an interest in the topic! It's a great in-depth source for anyone wanting to learn about the topic.


Please comment below if you're an herbalist, or beginning to study! I would love to hear about your favorite learning resources! Otherwise, you can follow us on Pinterest @RoseFallFarm or me on Twitter @Rebeka_White or Instagram @RebekaWhiteWrites!




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