Herbal Medicine Degrees: Master's, Certification & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's degree in herbal medicine? Find out degree program requirements, online options, and info on courses and herbal medicine certification.
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Herbal Medicine Master's Degrees and Certification at a Glance

Herbal medicine, also called botanical medicine, phytomedicine, or therapeutic herbalism, is the discipline of using any of the various parts of plants for medicinal purposes, and it can be practiced by a number of health care professionals. These include physicians, naturopathic physicians, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners, chiropractors, and pharmacists. Because many of these careers have specific educational and licensing or certification pathways, an aspiring herbal medicine practitioner might consider non-degree training in herbal medicine in addition to the training legally required to work in the health care field of his or her choice.

If you'd like to practice acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine, you'll seek credentialing through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This is typically the minimum legal requirement to practice these professions, although some states have additional requirements. To be eligible for certification in Chinese herbal medicine, you must have completed at least 410 hours of clinical training and 1,640 hours of classroom training, with at least 350 of your classroom hours devoted specifically to Chinese herbal medicine. Some states require that acupuncturists have graduated from programs accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 26% job increase for health diagnosing and treating professionals in general from 2010-2020 and a 34% job rate for health care support professions. These projected growth rates were much faster than the average for all occupations. During the same time period, jobs for the biological technicians who perform research into new medicines were expected to grow about as fast as average.

Master's Certificate Programs
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to incorporate training in herbal medicine into training for a health care career People who already hold professional degrees and licensing in a health care career
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary, except as noted) - Naturopathic physician ($31,000-$83,000; extra training and license may be required)**
- Registered nurse ($69,000; extra training and license required)*
- Biological technician ($42,000)*
- Chinese herbal medicine practitioner (salary unavailable; license required)**
- Acupuncturist ($29,000-$135,000; extra training and license required)**
- Self-enrichment teacher ($41,000)*
- Massage therapist ($14,000-$49,000; with 1-4 years' experience; extra training and license may be required)**
Time to Completion 2-3 years full-time Nine weeks to three years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 18 graduate-level courses
- Clinical internship
- Roughly 5-10 graduate-level courses
- Clinical orientation
- Clinical internship
- Dispensary internship
Prerequisites -Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution
- Courses in physiology, anatomy and other physical sciences completed within past seven years
- Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution
- Professional licensure or certification in a health care field
Online Availability None found at this time Yes

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Payscale.com reported salary range (September 2012).

Master's Degrees in Herbal Medicine

Master's degree programs in herbal medicine go by several titles, including Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine with a Chinese herbal medicine track. Along with additional education, licensure, and requirements where appropriate, a master's degree program might prepare those who complete it for a wide range of careers, which include herbal medicine researcher, quality control professional for an herbal supplement company, community health educator, herbal medicine journalist, and educational materials developer.

Pros and Cons of an Herbal Medicine Master's Degree


  • Wide variety of possible career options
  • Programs teach both science-based and traditional herbal therapy-based knowledge and practices
  • May be offered in part-time or intensive formats to accommodate various schedules


  • Additional education, training and/or certification may be required for some careers
  • Master's degree programs from accredited institutions are generally unavailable through online learning
  • May require significantly more time to complete than certificate and other non-degree programs

Courses and Requirements

Students in master's degree programs in herbal medicine may complete an internship or other clinical experience. Typical courses in a master's degree program vary by the focus of the program, but generally include a combination of physical science and herb identification classes. Some courses might include these:

  • Materia medica
  • Phytochemistry
  • Integrative physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Anatomy
  • Diagnostic techniques

Online Degree Availability

As of October 2012, master's degree programs from accredited universities were essentially nonexistent. A fully online program would be difficult to pursue due to hands-on requirements, such as clinical hours.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Some schools offer post-master's certificate programs in addition to master's degree programs. Consider taking advantage of the additional courses available through these programs. Schools may also offer field trips related to herbal medicine. These hands-on learning opportunities offer another way to stand out while completing this degree program.

Certification and Online Courses in Herbal Medicine

Certificate programs and other types of non-degree training in herbal medicine vary widely in the scope of their focus and in the time it takes to complete them. Many require a prospective applicant to hold a degree and licensure in a medical or health care support specialization.

Pros and Cons of Herbal Medicine Certification and Online Training


  • Programs may be designed to complement other professional education, certification, and licensure
  • Relatively low tuition costs compared to master's degree programs
  • Programs may include externships and other clinical experiences


  • Additional education, training and/or certification is most likely required for some careers
  • Applicants may be required to have graduated from programs accredited or approved by specific professional organizations
  • Online herbal medicine courses or programs may not provide the training required for certain types of licensure, certification, or other professional credentialing

Courses and Requirements

Certificate programs may require clinical experience through an internship, an externship or both. Depending on the focus of the program, some of the courses one might encounter in such a program include the following:

  • Herbal medicine fundamentals
  • Frequently used herbs
  • Botany and plant identification
  • Toxicology
  • Chinese materia medica
  • Drug interactions
  • Chinese herbal therapeutics

Online Degree Availability

Unlike master's degree programs, online herbal medicine training programs that didn't lead to a degree could be found online as of October 2012. These programs may require a course in online research, and typically don't have clinical requirements.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Those who intend to pursue herbal medicine as part of acupuncture or Oriental medicine careers might choose programs that focus heavily on Oriental herbal medicine. Students in these programs might consider gaining additional knowledge by taking part in a study abroad program. Some institutions offer such experiential learning programs in China, for example.

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