How to Learn the Art of Herbalism to Maintain Health and Prevent Disease

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Are you thinking about learning herbalism as a readiness skill for use during an emergency? Let me be the first to tell you that getting a solid herbal education can be tough, but it’s also rewarding. Anyone can learn herbalism, but it’s helpful to know which approach is right for you.

There are many different ways to learn: you can enroll in a local herb school, take online classes, or gather resources to teach yourself. But as a prepper, how do you sort through all of the options and determine what’s right for you?

Herbalism is largely unregulated in the United States. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it does mean that you, as a consumer shopping for herbal education, need to weigh your options and do your research.

And if you’re also a prepper, it’s important to feel confident that your teachers have done their research and had extensive experience. You also want to know that the course materials will cover topics relevant to preparedness and survival.

image: herbs on table and in bowl with scale

What is Herbalism?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines herbalism, or herbal medicine, to “include herbs, herbal materials, herbal preparations and finished herbal products, that contain as active ingredients parts of plants, or other plant materials, or combinations.”

Despite the fact that almost 25% of pharmaceutical drugs obtained from botanicals, western society as a whole is only recently rediscovering the benefits of herbalism. WHO estimates that 88% of all countries use some form of traditional medicine.

Interestingly, the website also writes that traditional medicine is the primary resource for those with inequitable access to conventional medicine. That sounds like a circumstance many of us could find ourselves in after a disaster, don’t you think?

How I Learned Herbalism

My first “official” herbal school experience frustrated me because my instructor relied mainly on industry street cred and charisma.

Most of the information in that course was good, but there were no references to external research ANYWHERE. The more I studied, the more uncomfortable this made me.

I had read widely on my own before enrolling, so I had a sense of what was reliable and what wasn’t. However, it was still a very frustrating experience.

Also, my main focus was more on working with clients than on preparedness needs. Even so, the course didn’t even cover as much of that as was implied. Very frustrating!

The Herbal Education That Worked For Me

After that experience, I spent several more years in self-directed study. Then, I found an herb school focused on herbalism in remote settings and community emergency preparedness. This school (The Human Path) has been a great fit for me. It has allowed me to develop my interest in emergency herbalism fully.

It also offers clinical outreach programs in remote settings. These programs allow me to gain more experience with my intake and evaluation skills while actively making a difference in communities. 

Around the same time, I also began working for an herb school (The Herbal Academy) that offers online programs created collaboratively. Because of the school’s emphasis on collaboration, the courses reflect the wisdom and perspectives of many experienced herbalists rather than a single person.

Click on this ad to learn what this course is all about. I highly recommend their courses.


How should YOU learn herbalism?

There are basically three general strategies: online or in-person herb schools, self-study, or some combination of the two.

Online/In-person Herb Schools

There are many more options available now than even a few years ago. Take advantage of that! Spend time researching different schools.

The Advantages of Herb Schools

Check to see if you have a local herb school nearby so that you can learn in a classroom setting. Learning skills like plant identification and applying your knowledge (via student clinical programs) is much easier in-person.

Nowadays, many herb schools are also accessible online. (Trust me. This is great. I mailed my lessons in via snail mail at the first school!).

There are several advantages to taking online courses:

  • It’s easier to reach instructors,
  • Easier to participate in virtual classroom settings like webinars and chats.
  • Online, you can quickly research questions you might have.
  • It’s easier to be in touch with current and former students, so you can get their reviews and insights into a particular course before you enroll.

The Disadvantages of Herb Schools

There’s typically no formal syllabus that all herb schools are required to follow. Nor is there any accreditation process that they must undergo (at least in the United States). Therefore, where you go to learn herbalism will depend largely on your goals.

Examine the founder’s philosophy to determine whether or not the lessons are backed with adequate research materials. Also, consider whether the training offered at the school is a match for your needs.

Generally speaking, steer clear of programs that claim to make you a “master herbalist.” The phrase is just hype. There is no meaningful standard by which to judge the qualification. “Certified herbalist” is the same way.

Just as there is no accrediting body specifically for herb schools, there’s also no regulatory body that grants titles for herbalists. However, a school can give you a certificate of completion for successfully passing their exams.

What types of herb schools are there? 

Herb schools will typically fall into one or the other of these categories based on the focus of their programs. Keep these in mind as you sort through which schools might be a good fit for your needs:

  • Tradition– This approach focuses on a historical subset of herbalism (such as Ayurveda from India).
  • Career– This will likely be more advanced because it focuses on developing skills and advanced theory needed in a modern clinical setting.
  • Family Herbalist– Many people only need this approach which focuses on the everyday use of herbs in a family/home setting.
  • Survivalist– This focuses on herbalism in remote or survival settings and includes foraging information.
  • New age– Yet another approach that focuses on intuitive herbalism, shamanism, or spiritual aspects of herbalism.

What type of school is best to learn herbalism for preparedness purposes?

For preparedness purposes, a course with a survival school is a wise investment. However, you shouldn’t overlook a solid foundation with a school focused on home herbalism, either. A good home herbalism course will usually teach you how to make many different types of herbal preparations. It will also give you plenty of information to apply for everyday health needs.  

An herb school may also divide their programs into different tracks based on specific skills or skill levels. Therefore, carefully investigate the schools that interest you.

Even if you don’t think every course they offer is a good fit for what you want, there may be a specific track or set of courses that are exactly what you’re looking for.

Peruse this school directory, School Directory by the American Herbalist Guild,  to get a feel for some of the options available.

Self-guided study

It’s also possible to learn herbalism on your own and be a self-taught herbalist.

This approach requires careful research and the dedication to seek out many professional perspectives. And no, reading internet forums for different opinions and ideas doesn’t count!

How to make your self-guided herbal preparedness studies more fruitful

Here are some tips to get the most from your self-study efforts:

  1. Invest in a solid herbal textbook, such as Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman or Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy by Kerry Bone. Please read it, cover to cover, and take notes. This will give you an excellent introduction to herbalism from the more scientific side. (This is what I did after my first, not-so-successful experience. It was worth every penny).
  2. Get a few herbal recipe books that teach you how to make herbal extracts, teas, salves, and other preparations. James Green’s The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook, Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, or Homegrown Remedies by Anne McIntyre are all excellent resources. Work through the book and teach yourself to make the different types of products.
  3. Make a list of the types of health problems you know you will need to address personally and research them. Then, start looking up (and using, with your doctor’s permission) herbal alternatives.
  4. Create herbal components for your first aid kits. Here are three herbal versions of a kit.
  5. Part of the beauty of having herbalism as a survival skill is that herbs are renewable — you can grow them yourself! Select a few new herbs each year and add them to your garden. Many are lovely to look at and can be added to urban and suburban landscaping or grown on a balcony or patio in containers. Herbs can be difficult to grow from seed, but many do well if grown from cuttings or root division. You’ll need to learn the specific needs of each plant as you go.
  6. Foraging is much less reliable as a supply tactic than many think. Plants may not be available when you need them. It may also be hard to find certain ones in your area. If you want to learn to forage, you’ll need field guides specific to your area and lots of time to learn plant identification. You’ll need to learn the individual timetable of each plant. That includes when it blooms, when to harvest, and what specific parts are used. You’ll also need to tend your foraging plots, spreading seed and otherwise helping the plants regenerate. Hopefully, then there will be even more plants available the next year. It’s best to focus on one or two really abundant “weeds” at a time and add more as you hone your skills.
  7. If possible, take a course in wilderness first aid to supplement your herbal studies.
  8. One prepper and herbalist, Cat Ellis, offers this Prepper’s Natural Medicine book written from a prepper perspective, all about various natural and herbal remedies.

A combination of herb schools and self-guided study

As my journey illustrates, combining both herb schools and self-study approaches is absolutely possible and doable. As you progress, you’ll get a feel for what you are confident you can learn independently and what you prefer to have more “formal” schooling in. You get to design your herbal education to suit your learning style and herbalism goals.

What are the next steps in learning herbalism?

In addition to deciding how you will approach herbal education, consider assembling a general use herbalist’s first aid kit. You might also want to try growing one or two more common herbs, like yarrow, elder, or peppermint.


All of this shows that there are many, many different ways to approach herbalism education. Regardless of the method, you should be a very active participant in your education.

Ask questions, read widely, create herbal products to use at home, and really participate in what you are learning!

Herbalism is so much more than “book learning.” You’ll have the best results later by learning to incorporate herbs into your current lifestyle now and how to utilize them in a remote or disaster setting.  

What methods and resources have you found helpful in learning herbalism?

This is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any disease.  Consult your personal medical professional.

The article was originally published on March 8, 2018, and has been updated.

12 thoughts on “How to Learn the Art of Herbalism to Maintain Health and Prevent Disease”

    1. The Survival Mom

      That’s the best way to insure a continual supply and to know exactly how the herbs are grown. Amazon does carry a number of organic herbs, however, and so do other sites that cater to herbalists.

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  3. I think the first thing a true herbalist realises is that there is no “course” that’s going to magically make you an expert herbalist. In fact degree or diploma and herbalism are oxymorons. It’s never ending journey of discovery. It can’t be boxed, it’s not a course in accounting. If you stick rigidly to course material it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will be a useless herbalist prescribing the usual snake oil to people. What a true aspiring herbalist needs is an intelligent and inquiring mind, a love of plants and nature, complete disdain for Big Pharma and a library of good paper books. The most renowned herbalists in the world are self taught. And if you don’t know what Big Pharma is then you haven’t even started the journey. The quickest way btw to sort the quacks from the real herbalists is tell them you suffer from chronic depression and what do they recommend. When you hear the words Camomile or St Johns Wort or Valerian. You dealing with a course quack. (valerian has it’s place but that’s another story and the first two might alleviate depression in a mouse)

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  5. Rob in Kentucky

    Sage Herb and Milk Cure-All: 91. Feed a sick baby on cow’s milk with sage tea mixed in it.” “This was called “quilling” and was used by some of the oldest settlers of the state. Mrs. H. O. Skiles of Lincoln said that her grandmother fed her six weeks old granddaughter on this prescription. She asserted that it cured her after doctors had said she could not live. Nebraska Folk Cures Published 1935

    1. Interesting! I tried to do a quick search on “quilling’, but all that comes up is pages and pages on paper quilling. Thanks for sharing, Rob.

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