Who to Turn to for Expert Information on Herbs?
Answered by: Robert Newman, L.Ac.
Question from: Lee May
Posted on: May 19, 2004

I am sixty years old and would like to know who to turn to for expert information on herbs. There are thousands of herbs with thousands of experts on herbs. In my opinion an expert knows what will work in herbs as well as a doctor knows what will work in medicine. I do not have the time or money to waste on opinions of unqualified experts.

Well, you ask a good question, but it’s also a rather broad question. My expertise is with Chinese herbal medicine, so I wouldn’t probably be the best person to ask in connection with western herbs (e.g., North American, European, Australian, African, South American, Mideastern, etc.) -- Susan Eagle, another practitioner on Richters website, might be better at telling you about western herb "experts" and where to find them. And for Ayurvedic herbs, East Indian herbs, Tibetan herbs or some other eastern culture’s approach to herbal medicine, you would want to ask a qualified practitioner of one of those types of medicine what he or she recommends on this subject. Just generally speaking, for information and advice about any type of herbs, you would probably do well with someone who has more rather than less years of experience working with herbal medicine, and also someone who has received a reasonable amount of competent training in a certified or accredited program -- preferably training which has not only involved classroom lessons, but also significant clinical guidance and experience. So inquiring into someone’s background is important.

Sometimes, a referral or recommendation to a practitioner by a friend or family member whose judgement you feel is trustworthy can be very productive and give good results. I would certainly ask this friend how long he or she has been going to the practitioner (to be able to get a better sense of how much experience this friend has had with this practitioner). And I would recommend you also still do a thorough check with the practitioner into his/her experience and background/training.

Lastly, I would also recommend that you see someone directly -- in person -- so that this person can talk to you about specific issues that you have, and she/he can examine you and do a very individualized and truly wholistically-minded interview and exam to come up with as appropriate a prescription of herbs as is possible for your needs at this point in time. Yes, there are thousands of herbs and numerous different cultural/ethnic systems of herbal medicine, but whatever the origins of the system, I believe it should be wholistic in how it is practiced by the person you go to. Someone can pass himself off as an expert, but if he doesn’t have a method of diagnosing you that is wholistic and a method of choosing herbs that is wholistic, I seriously question his "expertise." By wholistic, I mean here that the whole person is taken into account: your mind, body, emotions, and hopefully even your spirit. And also important, you are examined and checked out as an individual and the herbs are prescribed for your specific issues and imbalances, constitutionally as well as situationally (more acutely). Additionally, I would also consider it an important aspect of a wholistic approach that your symptoms are not merely seen as some evidence of your system having a chaotic, completely destructive breakdown (i.e., as something that needs to be "stopped" or surpressed), but rather they are viewed as a sign that your body is making an intelligent effort to restore balance: the symptoms are just the outward, visible sign that your body is making an effort to try to bring you back to a healthy state and your body should be supported and helped as much as is reasonably possible in restoring your health.

I know of some organizations and websites that also can refer you to Chinese medicine practitioners who are practicing in different areas and who have been trained and licensed/certified in Chinese herbal medicine from reputable, accredited schools. I have put some of the links to these sites down below. For example, there is the NCCAOM, a U.S. organization that administers national board exams and licenses the practitioners who pass the their exams. They have some listings available of licensed practitioners in various areas who have passed their herbal board exam and are licensed in that area of Chinese medicine. I don’t know if you live in Canada, the U.S. or in some other country, but some of the other websites I have listed links to below have some information on Canadian and foreign organizations. And you might try to contact your local state or province consumer board or health ministry/department to see which local organizations might have listings of licensed/certified practitioners of herbal medicine -- western, Chinese, Ayurvedic, Tibetan or otherwise. Also, schools and colleges which offer reputable (and possibly accredited) programs of training in herbal medicine would be another possible resource for knowing where to find skilled and experienced practitioners. There are also practitioners of herbal medicine who have not been so formally trained or certified and yet are exceptional herbalists, but to find one of these people, I would generally only go by referral from someone you can trust.

So here is a sampling of some of the relevant links out there. I found a number of organizations and websites that have information about acupuncture schools, about practitioners that are listed with them or about other organizations which have further information and/or practitioners listed with them. You can also simply do a search on GOOGLE for "acupuncture organizations," "acupuncture schools" or "herb schools," e.g.











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