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

This is a question that has come up many times in my practice. Both naturopaths & clinical herbalists can be valuable to have on your health care team. Both use holistic methods, though the approaches are different. Depending on your needs, preferences, and where you are at on your wellness journey, you may choose to see one or the other, or sometimes both. Here I’ll briefly share some key differences between naturopaths and clinical herbalists as I understand it. I encourage you to do your own research and make sure you feel comfortable with any practitioner you choose.

1. Education and licensing. A naturopath has to go through formal training and a licensing process. Although many herbalists spend 20+ years in formal and/or informal training, currently herbalism is not regulated in the US. That means that the extent of training and quality of service varies greatly from herbalist to herbalist. This is why it’s important to learn about the educational background of an herbalist you seek out. That being said, there are many excellent herbalists who are not formally trained. They may come from a family of herbal tradition that was passed down or apprenticed with other herbalists. Herbalism has a long lineage that began in folk traditions. Keep in mind that conventional pharmaceutical medicine has roots in herbalism.

2. Naturopaths are doctors. They can diagnose & treat disease, order blood work and other tests. If you are looking for a straight up diagnosis, a naturopath can be a valuable option for that. Herbalists are not doctors. Many people seeking help from a clinical herbalist have already tried the conventional medicine route with little to no success. Many times, they have already had the diagnostics done. This can be helpful to the herbalist but is not necessary. Instead of diagnosing, an herbalist will gather the information needed to assess the underlying imbalance, addressing symptoms along the way as needed. clinical herbalists are trained to look for patterns of imbalance, as opposed to diagnosing a condition.

3. Herbalists are the specialists in botanical therapeutics. They have dedicated their education to learning about plants & how they work in the body. They have an understanding of anatomy & physiology (so do naturopaths), but also how to match herbs to an individual’s constitution & unique situation. They know which types of herbal extractions to use to get the best results & can recommend specific dosing for each herb/formula/person. They have a deep understanding of the safety & contraindications of each herb. Naturopaths do have some training in botanical medicine, however as they also study several other holistic modalities such as nutrition, homeopathy, acupuncture, and more, the knowledge will be of a more general scope. There are exceptions, and some naturopaths have pursued extra training in herbalism.

4. Naturopaths usually stock and prescribe ready-made herbal formulas. In many cases this works out fine. A clinical herbalist will take the time after each consultation to customize a unique formula for the individual. They may use ready made formulas if they feel one applies, however more often than not there needs to be some adjusting to fit the unique needs of the individual’s situation and constitution.


You might want to see a naturopath if:

You want a licensed, holistic doctor, who can diagnose & order any labwork needed. Or you would like to utilize the many avenues of holistic medicine: homeopathy, aromatherapy, supplement therapy, herbs, acupuncture, and much more. I hope to develop in the near future a resource list of naturopaths to recommend.

You might want to see a clinical herbalist if:

You resonate with herbs and plant therapeutics. You like the idea of individualized custom formulas. Or you would like to go deeper into using herbal therapy on your wellness journey and desire a specialist to assist you.

If you think a clinical herbalist might be a good fit for you, click this link to learn more about my clinical herbal wellness practice, my background and skills, and how I work with people. Feel free to reach out to schedule a free 15 minute Connection Call to get any of your questions or concerns answered.