What is Herbalism?

The word “herbalism” is thrown around a lot but what is it? Let’s dive into the history of herbalism and where the practice originated.

Back in medieval Europe, individuals would sell wines, spices, and herbs as well as prepare medicines and sell them to physicians and those who were ill. They would even give medical advice. These shops were known as “apothecaries.”

The word ‘apothecary’ is derived from apotheca, meaning a place where wine, spices and herbs were stored.1

Apothecaries originally started out in the grocery business and later created guilds. A guild is a group of people with similar interests and skills who would make and sell products together.  Sometimes they would join up with doctors but their main job was to supply remedies to the doctors.

By the mid-sixteenth century apothecaries had become the equivalent of today’s community pharmacists, dealing mainly with the preparation and sale of substances for medicinal purposes.2

Apothecaries were very common for centuries but began to decline in the 1800s and early 1900s as chemist’s shops began to replace them. The chemist’s shops were then replaced by the pharmacies that we know today that receive their supply of drugs from pharmaceutical companies. However, apothecaries never truly died out, especially in eastern countries. Today herbalist have stepped in to take over the role that apothecary shop keepers had.

Herbalist:  a person who grows, sells, or uses herbs to treat illness3

The word “apothecary” is not commonly used anymore but is slowly regaining popularity when referring to places you can buy herbs. The modern-day practice of using herbs in health care is referred to as “herbalism” and those practicing herbalism are called “herbalist.”

[Herbalists] include native healers, scientists, naturopaths, holistic medical doctors, researchers, writers, herbal pharmacists, medicine makers, wild crafters, harvesters and herbal farmers…4

Those who use plants for therapy, including aromatherapists, acupuncturists, midwives and more, can also be considered herbalists.

Herbalism is often associated with witchcraft and other supernatural practices. Though both may use some of the same herbs to creating medicine or performing rituals, both are completely different.  Herbalism is based on science and research and does not involve any supernatural rituals to treat illnesses, though the two crafts may be combined for the same objective.

There are different types of herbal practices over the centuries including Traditional Western Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine. You can learn more about these practices here.

Herbalism is constantly changing. The use of plants for treating illnesses has been around since the dawn of man. It’s starting to make a comeback but can be hard to practice due to government regulations. However, herbalism should not be a complete replacement for medical care. It is very important to consult with medical professionals before starting something new.


1 Apothecaries of London: Origins
2 AHG Herbal Medicine Fundamentals
3 Merriam-Webster: Herbalist
4 Apothecaries

Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. I am not a doctor, veterinarian, dietician, or health expert. Licensing is not available in the United States for an herbalist to practice herbal medicine.  If you wish to have advice on a medical problem, please consult a doctor. Every person is different and I cannot guarantee that any information provided will work for everyone.  You are responsible for your own health and any decision to alter your health is your own choice. Please consult a doctor before making any serious health changes.

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