Skip to content

What is a Herbalist?

Treating the cause, not just the symptom

Medical herbalists make use of plants whose traditional uses are backed up by modern scientific research and clinical trials. All of our members hold a BSc degree or equivalent in Herbal Medicine, have studied orthodox medicine as well as plant medicine and are trained in the same diagnostic skills as a GP. However, herbalists take a holistic approach to illness, treating the underlying cause of disease rather than just the symptoms. They are able to prescribe herbal remedies to be used alongside other medication and treatments, and many patients are referred to a herbalist by their GP for treatment.


Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine is medicine made from plants, either the whole plant or sometimes parts of it, for example leaves, flowers, roots or bark.  It has been the main source of medicine used by people for thousands of years.  There are many herbal traditions around the world, but members of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists are trained in what is often known as ‘traditional’ herbal medicine, as opposed to Chinese or Ayurvedic herbal medicine.

Herbal medicine has itself developed over the centuries and links can be traced back to Graeco-Roman, Arabic, European and American cultures. Although there is a foundation of traditional use to to the practice, modern use also includes current scientific research and Institute members are trained in the same clinical examination skills as conventional GPs.

How does a herbal practitioner work?

Herbal medicine focuses on the patient and the cause of their illness rather than the symptoms that they have.  The choice of herbs that a practitioner prescribes is based on detailed information given to the practitioner by the patient and the result of any clinical examination carried out during the consultation.  This allows a bespoke, personalised prescription to be created.

Practitioners, patients and consultations

Members of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists practice herbal medicine to the highest ethical standards as set out in our Code of Ethics and Practice. Amongst the areas covered are detailed guidance to members on the proper standards of good practice with respect to their:

  • obligations to patients
  • obligations in practice
  • relationships with patients and professional colleagues
  • legal obligations and observation of good practice
  • commercial obligations
  • obligations as a teacher
  • standards of behaviour
  • awareness of safeguarding issues
  • handling of complaints and concerns

Training & Qualifications

Institute members are all qualified to degree level or above in herbal medicine, and to apply for membership practitioners must undertake extensive training(minimum three years full-time or part-time equivalent) including anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, nutrition and over 500 hours of clinical training.

Herbal products

Patients can be confident that herbal medicines dispensed by our members are made using the best quality ingredients available, produced by reputable manufacturers to the highest standards and subject to proper quality controls. Wherever possible, plant materials are grown organically, and sourced sustainably. The Institute does not endorse products which involve harvesting endangered plant species from the wild.

Use of animal derived products

The practice of ‘traditional’ herbal medicine involves the use of only plant materials to assist wellbeing. Animal derived products such as beeswax and propolis (a resin produced by bees) are sometimes used, particularly to make creams, ointments and salves. Vegan alternatives are often available.

Non-gelatine containing capsules and vegetable glycerine are preferred by herbalists. A number of fatty acids used sometimes in skin preparations can also be obtained from vegetable sources.

Alcohol based tinctures

Medical herbalists often use concentrated plant extracts where a very small amount of alcohol is used to help extract and preserve the active ingredients of the plant. For patients who are unable to take medicines containing alcohol for any reason there are always other options available.

Animal testing and research

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists does not support the use of animal testing for herbal products. Herbal research derived from studies based on the use of laboratory animals is also not encouraged for reasons of both animal welfare and concerns over their relevance to human herbal interventions.

Quick Links

Find a herbalist

What does a herbalist treat?

How to become a herbalist

Did you know?

Medicinal plants have long been used as natural first aid remedies such as rubbing dock leaves onto nettle stings or applying lavender oil to treat burns.



Although the Institute's members are trained in traditional and clinical herbal medicine, plant medicine can take other forms or be part of other healing therapies and traditions.  Some of these are briefly described below to help clarify and underline a few of the differences that exist between them.

Please contact the relevant professional body for any of these therapies if you would like more information on them.


This is the use of essential oils distilled from plants that are either used through inhalation or are mixed with a carrier oil and applied to the skin.


Ayurveda is a traditional Indian medicine practice that aims to balance the body, mind and spirit.  Primarily it seeks to promote good health rather than treat disease.
It is based on the idea of everyone being a unique combination of three different energies which themselves are based on five different elements.  Balance is created using a mixture of diet, herbs, exercise and breathing techniques.

Flower remedies

Flower remedies or essences are infusions of flowers in water using sunlight to extract the energies of that flower.  The specific energies of each flower are used to treat underlying emotions rather than physical ailments.


Homeopathy is also an energy medicine which uses diluted quantities of substances that in a larger quantity would cause the symptom being treated, ‘like cures like’.  Remedies may be plant, animal or mineral derived. Every patient is unique, and treatment takes into account the mind, body and emotions of that individual during the consultation.  This allows the practitioner to select the most appropriate remedies.


This is the use of natural therapies such as acupuncture, herbs and homeopathy, and modern ones such as bio-resonance, ozone-therapy and colon hydrotherapy.
A detailed consultation may be combined with iris, tongue or nail diagnosis to improve the practitioner’s assessment of their patient.  Additional analysis of blood, stools, or hair may also be used to help create a treatment plan.

Chinese herbal medicine

Chinese herbal medicine is one of several therapies that together, make up traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and like traditional herbal medicine, has several thousand years of historical use behind it.  Remedies have traditionally included minerals and some animal products as well as plants but practitioners in the UK use only plants.  Herbal prescriptions are often specific formulae rather than being individualised prescriptions and are used to restore balance to the Qi (energy), moisture and blood that feed the organs of the body.  Diagnostic methods during a consultation include pulse diagnosis and closely looking at the face, skin and tongue.