As an herbal educator, I’ve been asked an immense amount of questions. “Can you smoke Kava?” “Is False Unicorn root from false unicorns?” “Can you take too much vervain? I think I took too much vervain...”. But by far the most asked question for people looking to start on this path is “what do people do with a certificate in herbalism?”.
And no wonder. Herbalism is a lovely, sprawling, many-tentacled beast. Other occupations have more obvious examples and guidelines. The classic children’s book images of the mayor fox, grocer cat, or beaver carpenter are compelling precisely because of their seductive simplicity. If you’re a Banker, you bank. If you’re a blacksmith, you do blacksmithing.
But herbalists? What we do varies hugely. Medicine makers, clinicians, teachers, writers, retailers, farmers-the list goes on and on. Folks tend to specialize (especially in the herbal products market) but by and large, making a living with herbalism is a mix and match proposition. See clients a bit, teach classes a bit, work a retail job a bit. The nice part is that with the growing popularity of herbalism, it's totally possible to make a living at it. There are full-time jobs for herbalists—it just depends on what you're interested in doing!
Over the past 8 years, I’ve had the privilege of interreacting with hundreds of students through our school, as well as having an ear to the herbal community at large. The list below is what I’ve seen folks do most commonly with an herbal education, either self-taught or more often through a formal program like CSCH.
Working for the Someone Else
Herbal Products Companies
There is an increasing market for trained herbalists in the herbal products industry, in many parts of the country. Mountain Rose, Traditional Medicinals, Oregon’s Wild Harvest, Wishgarden Herbs, Urban Moonshine, and HerbPharm are just a few companies that I have known students and friends to work for, and in some cases, choose to make a career with. Medicine making, botany, growing, administration, herb buying, marketing, public education-its all part of making these larger companies function.
This is a classic entry level job for many recently graduated herbalists. Along with the bigger chains such as Whole Foods and Natural Grocers, more specifically marketed herbal retailers are becoming increasingly prevalent.
From being a barely visible practice of the fringe, herbalism has done something in the past 10 years that most never really expected it to. It's become hip. And with the hipness comes demand, and with demand comes apothecaries, herbal spas, and a whole host of retail establishments specifically focused on bringing well made, well-marketed plant medicine to an interested public.
While the Front Range of Colorado is certainly a hotbed for this kind of activity, with places like Pharmaca, Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary, Apothecary Tinctura, Taspen’s Organics, etc., apothecaries are popping up across the country, serving a population increasing hungry for a closer connection with their health and medicine.
Most folks I’ve met don’t do this full time. Unless you get really big and famous or don’t report your income to The Man, this is not often a fantastically lucrative route. Most people I know who teach for schools/events, or even those who run their own schools, support their teaching through other means, such as selling herbal products, consulting for herbal companies, or working another day job. Also, it takes an immense amount of work to run your own school, and as a result, many people choose to either guest teach or have more informal one-off type classes. Having said that, there are more herb schools now in the country than there have been for at least a century – which is encouraging for both students and teachers!
Working for Yourself
Making some sort of herbal product, such as teas, tincture, salves, etc., is one of the most common paths I see people take. It is a fantastic way to spread high quality, small batch medicine to people who might otherwise be purchasing god-knows-what from more questionable, industrial grade sources. I’ve seen loads of herbalists use this to support other endeavors, such as clinical work, writing, teaching, or as an adjunct to some sort of day job outside of herbalism.
Also, this does not necessarily have to be tinctures or tea blends. Plenty of folks have spread their herbal spores into other realms. Sheri Hupfer’s Alchemy of Artemis focuses on integrating herbs in wearable art, and Urban Moonshine has been made famous for their clever promotion of medicinal bitters that can be added to cocktails.
While establishing your own apothecary/herbal products business often takes a decent bit of time, money, or both before becoming profitable, it’s totally doable. See the list of self-starting apothecaries below!
For those do choose to run their own schools, I’ve seen several tactics.
- Find a way for students to be able to get government loans (by partnering with an accredited school, for example).
- Become a non-for-profit, where grants can subsidize the school to a certain extent.
- Support their school through other means, such as selling herbal products, consulting for herbal companies, or working another day job.
Of course, the increasingly popular route is to run partial or full courses online. Lack of overhead, administrative hassle, and increasing interest from members of the public unable to take time off has made distance learning extremely seductive. The Chestnut School and the Human Path are some recent and successful examples of this model.
While knowing your stuff is an important piece of being an herbalist, being able to communicate that well to others is equally valuable. Authoring books and blogs is like having a kick-ass business card, and is a fantastic way to promote your products, teachings, and other offerings.
Entrepreneurial spirit required! With a few exceptions, seeing clients usually means starting your own business, which has its perky and not-so perky sides. Most folks I know who see clients also sell herbal products, work a day job, teach, or do some combination of those things to make ends meet, at least for the first few years. Generally, this is not a practice gone into for the money, and the majority of herbal practitioners I know have some sort of sliding scale. Clinical herbalist jobs where you are actually working directly with clients full time, and for full pay, can be hard to come by. However, what I have seen more and more of is integration with other modalities. Chiropractors, Acupuncturists, and in some cases broadminded NDs are taking on herbalists to work in their practice. Providing additional therapies (nutrition consulting, bodywork, etc.) is another way people go in order to make sure they can support a full-time clinical practice.
The list below includes businesses/practices of past grads of the North American Institute of Medical herbalism (NAIMH), the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism (CSCH), as well as some places our past grads have or are currently working that are specifically herbal oriented. This is, of course, biased towards both the CO Front Range, as well as our school, but what the heck. I know these folks personally, which is why I mention them.