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Sometimes, the best cure for what ails you isn't a manufactured drug but a more natural solution. Herbalists may help prevent, cure and alleviate the symptoms of disease by prescribing all-natural remedies. While some herbalists are specialists in natural therapies, others prescribe natural remedies while treating patients more holistically as naturopathic doctors, or NDs. Many herbalists are self-employed. While salaries are often modest to start, earnings can grow with reputation and experience.
Natural medicine isn't as strongly monitored in the United States as the practice of conventional, Western medicine, although the regulatory landscape is changing. As of 2011, the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges reported that 15 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands regulated the practice of naturopathic medicine, and legislation requiring licensing was pending in several other states. In these areas, naturopathic doctors have to graduate from accredited four-year nauturopathic medicine programs, pass a board examination and complete continuing education credits to maintain licensure. While it's possible to become an herbalist without becoming a naturopathic doctor, some states regulate the distribution of mixed substances for medical purposes in the rules governing naturopathic physicians, requiring practitioners participating in these activities to get licensed. Before you open up a business as a herbalist, check the rules in your area. The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges has a map that shows licensed and unlicensed regions at a glance.
If you live in a state without licensing requirements, no formal education is needed to become a herbalist. However, taking college courses in herbal medicine can help you learn about the trade and give you the credibility to attract new clients. For example, Bastyr University in Washington offers an herbal science undergraduate degree. While the degree doesn't allow you to prescribe herbal medicines in Washington, where naturopathic medicine is licensed, it may be enough to get started as a herbalist in a non-licensed state. If you want to work in a state where natural medicine is licensed, look into naturopathic doctor (ND) programs, or research programs that combine herbal medicine with another discipline. For example, Bastyr also offers degrees in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, so you can practice as a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes herbalists as "Healthcare Practitioner and Technical Workers, All Other," along with other health-related occupations not listed separately. In 2010, those in this occupational group earned between $24,360 and $95,270 per year, with the low number representing the lowest 10 percent of earners, and the larger number representing the highest 10 percent. As an herbalist just starting out, you will probably earn on the lower end of the pay scale as you attract new clients. Health Care Crossing, a health job board and information website, also reports a wide salary range for herbalists -- between $20,000 and $120,000.
Naturopathic Doctor Earnings
If you decide to become a naturopathic doctor, you may start at a relatively low salary, but your potential earnings are higher than those for herbalists. According to a FAQ document from the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, naturopathic doctors make between $20,000 and $30,000 per year while working in residency. The association also reports that fully-licensed naturopathic physicians earn $80,000 to $90,000 per year on average, although those starting out should expect to make less as they work at establishing practices. Earnings can exceed $200,000 per year for a well-established naturopathic doctor.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2010, Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Workers, All Other
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Workers, All Other
- Health Care Crossing: Herbalist Salary
- Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges: Naturopathic Doctor Licensure
- Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges: Naturopathic Medicine FAQ
- Bastyr University: Academic Degree Programs
A professional writer since 2006, Colleen Reinhart has held positions in technical writing and marketing. She also writes lifestyle, health and business articles. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Business degree from the University of Waterloo, and a Master's degree in speech-language pathology from the University of Toronto.