An herbalist is someone who specializes in handling herbs for medicinal purposes. In some cases, an herbalist focuses on growing herbs, while others may harvest or collect herbs in the wild, and some offer herbal prescriptions and advice. In many cases, an herbalist performs all three tasks, managing his or her own stock of herbs to ensure that they are of high quality.
The qualifications to become an herbalist vary widely, depending on the nation, and many nations have no set regulations for the practice of herbal medicine. In some regions of the world, herbalists can attend formal training programs and receive certification through an independent organization to ensure that they are well versed in the practice of herbal medicine. In other instances, someone may apprentice with an herbalist before setting up an independent practice.
The use of herbs in medicine is ancient, and in some parts of the world it is a practice which is considered on par with more mainstream medicine. In Asia, for example, many people see a Chinese herbalist who has studied Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for medical treatment. In many Western nations, herbalism is considered complementary or alternative medicine, and it may be disparaged by some medical professionals.
An important part of herbalism is the identification of various herbs and what they can be used for. Since herbs do not have standardized ingredients like processed pharmaceuticals, an herbalist must also be skilled in collecting and storing herbs properly to ensure that they will work as intended. A professional and ethical herbalist is aware of drug interactions between various herbs and with mainstream pharmaceuticals, and he or she will carefully discuss a patient's situation before offering a prescription.
Herbal supplements can be used in someone's diet to promote general health or address system conditions. Some people also take herbal supplements to change their weight or physical appearance. This is not generally recommended, for an assortment of reasons, not least of which is that some of the herbs used in weight loss in particular may actually be dangerous. Herbs may also be taken in the form of teas, distillations, and essences for conditions ranging from menstrual cramps to uneasy stomachs.
Although herbal medicine is “natural,” it can still be harmful, as some plants do contain toxins. It can also be dangerous to mix herbs and prescription medicines, so it is important to discuss all herbs, medications, and supplements you are taking with health care providers to receive the best care. In addition, you may want to consider seeking treatment from a doctor if herbal treatment does not appear to resolve a condition. A competent herbalist will usually welcome the additional input of medical testing and other diagnostic tools to treat a patient's condition.