College Student Interested in Herbal Medicine
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: No Name Given
Posted on: December 18, 1999

I’m a college student, and herbs are my hobby. I was wondering how hard is it to get into herbal medicine? Is it as hard as becoming a traditional doctor? Do you know of any herbal medicine schools close to Mississippi?

Perhaps the hardest thing about becoming a herbal practitioner in North America is finding a credible school and credible instructors. Herbal medicine in not regulated in North America the way that conventional medicine is. There are no qualification standards or standards of practice in general, and certainly nothing resembling the government-recognized uniform standards of conventional medicine.

In Europe the state of herbal medicine education is better. In England, for example, there are several comprehensive programs of study of 4 years or more and requiring university qualifications for admission. In North America there are a variety of institutions and courses available but none, in our opinion, compares to university level medical programs. There is a new degree program at Bastyr University in Seattle which we have heard about but we do not have information yet on how good its program is.

For more information visit the Ontario Herbalists Association website at and click on the "Health and Herbal Education" section and follow the links from there.

My real question is: what is the difference between an essential oil and an extract?

An essential oil is extracted by steam distillation (usually) from the fresh or dried herb. Heat is used to volatilize the oils in the herb and then the vapour is condensed back to a concentrated liquid form.

An extract is prepared with a solvent such as water or alcohol added to fresh or dried herbs. After some time, the mixture is strained and the liquid separated from the spent herbs. Heat may be used to speed the extraction process. When strained the liquid is a type of extract called a tincture. The liquid can also be concentrated in a variety of ways, and even evaporated off completely, to produce a concentrated extract in either liquid or powder form.

Essential oils only contain volatile oils found in herbs. Extracts can contain a variety of compounds depending on the type of solvent used. For example, water extraction will extract out the water-soluble components, while an extraction using alcohol or other solvents such as vegetable oils will extract out a completely different profile of components.

Using the right solvent or extract can often be critical in herbal medicine. A water extraction of a herb may be used for entirely different purposes from an alcoholic extraction of the same herb.

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