When am I an Herbalist?

Students often ask me, “when are we officially herbalists?” First, the term healer. I don’t use that term when referring to me because I don’t personally like it. I do understand the previous points about the healing coming from the client, not the practitioner. Some people like the term, and use it freely without that concern. That doesn’t bother me. But I see it as a more generalized term than herbalist.

Oregon Grape

As students we learn all about herbal protocols for different physical problems, but when we get into the clinic we find that so much of the process has nothing to do with the herbs. Taking a full quality intake, listening to the client, non-judgmental understanding, empowering the client to take responsibility and control of their own health, and teaching the client, all are major players in the healing process. Often herbs are not even necessary. However, if I may loosely paraphrase what Michael Moore once said, “We are herbalists because we like plants! We want to play with plants. We want to have a reason to have plants around us. Otherwise we might use magnets or crystals or pyramids.”

I use the term practitioner to mean one who practices their healing art with other people, uses it “clinically” (though not necessarily “in a clinic”), be it an herbal or other modality.


Once I was at the rainbow gathering, Washington in the ’80’s though I bet someone can tell the exact year. I was at the main welcome station at the parking lot. I was Waiting for Godot, an expected friend that never arrived. While I was waiting I watched the people at the welcome station. It seemed that there were two factions arguing. Two people and their supporters were in a heated debate on who was in charge. It was quite the scene, with raised voices and emotions all aflame.

After a while I looked around. During this time, other folks there at the welcome station were actively welcoming the newcomers driving in, answering their questions, helping and smiling. Directing the flow. And I could see that one smiley person was directing these greeters, moving around the welcome station, speaking to others that arrived wanting to help out, helping folks with problems, totally unaffected and removed from the heated debate. Meanwhile, these others were still arguing which of them was in charge of this. Who gets to wear the badge that says they are in charge? But it was apparent to me who was really in charge, no matter who got the title.


I tell folks you really become an herbalist when your community comes to you for their health concerns. When the community tells you, “you are our herbalist.” I see people with ND degrees or years of herbal training, but no clients. No one wants to see them. I see others with ND degrees or minimal formalized training, and yet people are always are their doorstep, being helped with herbs and empowered with health. Their community sees them as herbalists.

Some may say, “But Howie, this means that someone with a year of basic herbalism giving simple garden weeds for upset stomachs, basic first aid, and menstrual cramps would be called an herbalist, as well as the person who spent years trained in clinic, physiology, chronic illness, 350 different plants and may even have letters after there name!” Well that is true. And these two different herbalists will see things from a different perspective, work with different health problems, see different clients, yet they would both be herbalists. There is no agreement on the loose term “herbalist,” which encompasses such a wide range of knowledge. Certainly respecting one’s personal boundaries and limits, knowing when to refer, is vital for all health care practitioners, whether they be “lay” herbalists or neurologists.

Along with these ideas, I first realized I really was an herbalist and that I felt comfortable using that term, when people I worked with started calling me an herbalist.

~ Howie Brounstein ~

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