What’s the Difference Between a Naturopath and a Herbalist?

Western herbal medicine uses pills

It’s easy to interchange a naturopath and a herbalist, two well known practitioners of Western herbal medicine. After all, both these specialists use natural resources to treat their patients. But while their functions do overlap, their methods have significant differences. Let Everything Alternative explain the differences between a Naturopath and a Herbalist. 

What is the Study of Naturopathy and Herbalism?

Herbalists study herbal medicine; naturopaths focus on homeopathy, nutrition, and lifestyle medicine. 

Although they’re not medical doctors, herbalists are still valuable health care providers, having in-depth knowledge of herbal medicine. Their studies evolve around the use of plants to treat and prevent disease, as well as to promote health and wellbeing. 

Herbalists are experts in plant medicine. In Australia, a bachelor of science degree in Western herbal medicine takes an average of three years to be completed—this is the minimum education required of a herbalist.

Naturopaths, on the other hand, take a more general approach to their knowledge of alternative healing. Naturopaths study herbalism to help them come up with a natural treatment plan for their patients. 

However, their education also covers other fields, such as acupuncture, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, nutrition, kinesthetics, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Underscoring all these methods is the belief that the human body has the ability to heal itself when it is in a state of health and healing. 

To be qualified as a naturopath in Australia, potential practitioners complete a four-year bachelor of science degree in health science.

The History of Herbal Medicine

Naturopathy is relatively new; herbalism is thousands of years old.

“Healing with medicinal plants is as old as mankind itself,” says a study tracing the history of herbalism. The oldest piece of evidence of plants—such as poppy, henbane, and mandrake—being used in drug preparation is 5,000 years old. 

Scientists found 12 recipes using 250 plants written on a Sumerian clay slab in Nagpur, India. This instinctive use of plants as medicine required no formal education or training. In fact, modern medicine continues to be rooted in herbals. Common medicines today use some ingredients extracted from plants—Aspirin contains willow leaf extract; Morphine is derived from opium poppy.  

Hippocrates is said to be the first patron of naturopathy. But its modern form as a natural healing system was developed in the 19th century. In fact, the term naturopathy was coined only in 1895. Five years later, in 1900 Dr. Benedict Lust opened the first naturopathic medical school in the world—the American School of Naturopathy in New York City. 

Read: Fact vs Fiction: Are Natural Healing Options Better For You?

The different types of herbal remedies

Generally, naturopaths give out ready-made prescriptions. Herbalists provide customised blends. 

When treating patients, naturopaths usually provide a fixed set of prescriptions. They will order a combination of natural healthy practices, including drinking water regularly, exercising, getting enough sunlight, and adjusting the diet. Along with these, naturopaths provide a list of natural vitamins and minerals to supplement a patient’s treatment plan. 

On the other hand, herbalists’ cures are unique to each patient. After a consultation, a herbalist will put together a blend of herbs that best addresses a patient’s medical needs. 

Combining herbs is important as herbalists believe that plants have therapeutic qualities that work best when they’re not isolated from one another. Aspirin, for example, uses salicylic acid, which is extracted from the plant meadowsweet. This ingredient, though, can be abrasive on the stomach. The same plant, luckily, contains other ingredients that can counter this harmful side effect. 

The benefits of all things herbal 

Both herbalism and naturopathy can improve quality of life. 

Whether these natural healthcare methods are used solo or to complement western medicine, herbalism and naturopathy can prevent and treat diseases, and promote health. 

These also enhance the importance of holistic health. Instead of treating only the symptoms, herbal medicine and the lifestyle changes that naturopathy prescribes treat the root of the problem. 

Read: 7 Herbal Teas You Can Easily Grow Yourself

Does natural medicine work?

The demand for both naturopathy and Western herbal medicine is on the rise in Australia.

According to a study published in 2019, a substantial number of Australians use naturopathy and Western herbal medicine to complement conventional medical treatments. 

The World Health Organization recognises these natural and complementary therapies as effective and affordable solutions to health care. Annually, about 16 million Australians seek consultations with alternative therapists, including naturopaths and herbalists. These numbers confirm that thousands of people are finding better health and healing through natural remedies. 

Are Naturopaths and Herbalists qualified and recognised?

Naturopaths and herbalists in Australia are supported by health organisations. 

Naturopathic and herbal treatments are accepted by most medical health funds within Australia. 

There are multiple groups ensuring the high standards of registered Naturopaths and Herbalists:

Naturopathic and western herbal medicines can be great on their own, or a complementary addition to your current medical health plan. Find the one that works for you, because the end goal is to be healthy, happy and to enjoy life.

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