Whether you’re intrigued by the healing powers of plants for personal use or considering a career in herbalism, it’s essential to know about all the different types of herbalists that practice in the vast and diverse field of herbal medicine – so you can gain clarity on which path(s) resonate most for you.
In this article, I’ll elaborate on 13 of the most popular and fascinating types of herbalist paths you can pursue, personally and/or professionally.
(Note that you totally pursue more than one type of herbalist path if you so choose! I’ve explored almost all of these paths first-hand.) 😉
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Table of Contents
First things first: What is an herbalist?
An herbalist is someone who works with edible and/or medicinal plants (aka “herbs”) for culinary, medicinal, and/or or therapeutic purposes.
Herbalists study the properties of various plants and their extracts to help promote physical, mental, emotional well being, bringing us more into balance.
Herbs can also make great plant allies, helping us to naturally treat a variety of ailments.
We may formulate and/or recommend herbal preparations in the form of tea infusions, decoctions, tinctures, glycerites, syrups, capsules, oxymels, elixirs, hydrosols, flower essences, spagyrics, or topical applications to support well-being and address specific health concerns.
Herbalists often rely on traditional knowledge and plant wisdom, but we may also incorporate modern scientific understanding of plant compounds into our practices.
There’s a diverse array of different types of herbalists in this field – and you can explore as many of the following paths as your heart desires!
13 types of herbalists, explained
- Home herbalist
- Folk herbalist
- Community herbalist
- Clinical herbalist
- Herbal medicine maker
- Culinary herbalist
- Herbalism teacher
- Herbalist writer
- Spiritual herbalist
Home herbalists are individuals who incorporate herbal remedies into their daily lives for personal well-being.
They often cultivate a small herb garden at home, growing and harvesting plants for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Home herbalists may create simple herbal infusions, teas, or salves to address common ailments and promote overall health.
Their focus is on self-sufficiency and using herbs as a part of a holistic lifestyle, making herbalism an integral aspect of their home and family life.
If you’re interested in becoming a home herbalist, I recommend checking out the following resources:
This type of herbalism is often incorporated into most modern-day herbalism teachings (even clinical herbalism) because it’s the root of how all herbal medicine practices began, before anyone had access to microscopes or the scientific method.
Folk herbalists often rely on passed-down remedies, traditional knowledge, and cultural practices derived from plant wisdom which has turned out in many cases to be in alignment with modern-day evidence-based practice.
Folk herbalists emphasize the use of local plants and natural home remedies to address various ailments.
Community herbalists work closely with local communities, offering accessible herbal healthcare.
They focus on empowering individuals in their local neighborhood/town to take control of their well-being through community gardens, local apothecaries, small group classes, educational workshops, and community outreach programs.
There are two subtypes of clinical herbalists: eastern and western.
Eastern clinical herbalist
Rooted in traditional Eastern medicine such as Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Eastern clinical herbalists use herbs to balance the body’s energy and address imbalances. They may prescribe herbal formulas tailored to an individual’s constitutional needs.
Acupuncturists are one well-known example of a type of modern-day eastern clinical herbalist you can become or work with as a client.
Western clinical herbalist
Drawing from the principles of Western clinical herbalism, we western clinical herbalists integrate scientific understanding with traditional knowledge.
Western clinical herbalists often work in collaboration with healthcare professionals to provide complementary herbal remedies.
Clinical herbalists also often identify as herbal medicine makers, usually at a smaller scale.
Herbal medicine maker
Herbal medicine makers specialize in crafting herbal remedies such as tinctures, syrups, cordials, elixirs, salves, teas, and more.
We understand the art of extracting medicinal properties from plants, ensuring the potency and quality of their creations.
Some, but not all herbal medicine makers may also choose to open their own apothecary (herb store)- whether locally or online.
- One of my favorite resources for an aspiring herbal medicine maker is The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual* by James Green.
Culinary herbalists are masters of blending the worlds of flavor and health, combining the art of cooking with the science of herbalism.
They skillfully integrate herbs into their culinary creations, making delicious and nutritious meals – whether they are at home or in a commercial setting.
Culinary herbalists may experiment with herb-infused oils, vinegars, and medicinal spice blends to elevate the nutritional value of their dishes while adding a burst of flavor.
Wildcrafters and foragers are experts in identifying, harvesting, and ethically sourcing wild plants.
They play a crucial role in sustainability by ensuring responsible plant collection and conservation.
Herbalism teachers share their knowledge through classes, workshops, and online platforms.
They empower aspiring herbalists and enthusiasts with the skills and wisdom needed to navigate the world of herbalism.
Herbalist writers contribute to the field by creating informative content, whether it’s articles, blogs, or books.
(While I haven’t yet written any books on herbal medicine, I still identify as an herbalist writer, since I love writing about and sharing my herbal expertise via my herbal medicine blog archive!)
Herbalist writers share insights, research findings, recipes, and practical tips, making herbalism accessible to a wider audience.
Aromatherapists specialize in the therapeutic use of essential oils, harnessing the aromatic properties of plants for emotional and physical well-being.
They may incorporate aromatherapy into massage, skincare, or inhalation practices.
- My go-to mentors for aromatherapy are Evan Sylliaasen of the Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine (which focuses primarily on crafting and working with incense), and Amy Kreydin of the Barefoot Dragonfly in Austin, Texas for a deep-dive into hydrosols, essential oils, and clinical aromatherapy.
Botanists study plants from a scientific perspective, exploring their taxonomy, ecology, physiology, and of course all the Latin names!
Herbalists with a background in botany bring a deeper understanding of plant biology to their practice.
I personally think understanding this type of botany is a great foundation to build on, regardless of which direction your herbal path takes you.
- If you’re interested in learning more about this branch of herbal medicine, I highly recommend the book Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification* by Thomas J. Elpel.
Herbal alchemists take the study of herbalism to a whole new level, by integrating herbal medicine with astrology and ancient teachings from Hermetism, to create a truly holistic approach to healing.
At the heart of herbal alchemy is the practice of working with and making your own spagyric medicine.
- Sajah Popham of Evolutionary Herbalism is my go-to for all things herbal alchemy. I highly recommend his book Evolutionary Herbalism: Science, Spirituality, and Medicine from the Heart of Nature* and his course Alchemical Herbalism for the aspiring herbal alchemist!
Spiritual herbalists emphasize the sacred connection between plants and the spiritual realm.
We often integrate ritual, prayer, or meditation into their herbal practices, viewing plants as allies in a holistic healing journey.
Spiritual herbalists may also integrate flower essences, spagyrics, and/or aromatherapy into healing sessions and rituals.
- FYI: I practice as a spiritual herbalist via a small part-time healing practice in addition to my functional nutrition & herbal medicine work!
Herbalism is a rich tapestry woven with diverse threads, each representing a unique area of expertise and perspective.
Whether you’re drawn to the traditional wisdom of folk herbalism, the more scientific approach of clinical herbalism, or the spiritual connection in herbal practices, the world of herbalism offers a space for everyone to explore, learn, witness, experience and appreciate the healing powers of plants.