The herbalist, who he is and what he does

What the herbalist does

The “herbalist” is a retailer who listens to the customer’s request, advise on the most suitable preparation and gives instructions on how to use it. It also prepares herbal mixtures for herbal teas, infusions, syrups, tablets and ointments for health, cosmetic or food, but not therapeutic purposes. The therapeutic application of medicinal products is in fact the specific field of the phytotherapist, who is first of all a pharmacist) The job of the herbalist in the strict sense is the ability to identify, collect, transform and store medicinal plants, in compliance with current regulations. It must be able to count on solid botanical and ecological knowledge.

In specialized agricultural companies, the herbalist works as a technician in the cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants, follows the production, dealing with the choice of the most appropriate cultivation methods, the genetic selection of crops and control analysis for the evaluation of the quality of the active ingredients.

Within a plant products company, he works as an operator for the transformation of medicinal and aromatic plants into herbal, food and cosmetic derivatives. Becoming an herbalistThe herbalist can act as an employee of companies in the sector or as the owner of a business. In the latter case, a distinction is made between those who sell packaged products and those who mix them: for the former, the same requirements apply to those who trade in food products; for the latter, a Bachelor’s degree is compulsory; for the latter, a Bachelor’s degree as a professional herbalist can be obtained in Herbal Techniques or Herbal Science and Health Techniques or in Science and Technology of Herbal Products, Dietetics and Cosmetics: addresses in some faculties of Pharmacy or Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Technology or even Agriculture.

The herbalist in Italy and abroad

If theoretically to be an herbalist you must have attended a university course, at the counter, you can “run into” an unprovided, who perhaps has only taken a short course in hobbies.

However, in Italy there is a regulation of natural products that restricts the products sold in herbalist shops to those that are not able to cause damage. The basic regulation is still constituted by Law n. 99 of 1931, which indicates the requirements for the collection, cultivation and trade of medicinal plants, identified in the list of Royal Decree n. 772/1932. It must in any case be borne in mind that the equation “natural = beneficial” is incorrect: even the poisonous mushrooms or hemlock with which Socrates committed suicide are natural. In the near future, in agreement with the European Union, which has issued a regulation under which the Member States must recognize the training at least three years obtained in another state, it is expected a review of the for some old obsolete legislation, and a thickening of the rules.


  • Do animals have a natural talent for herbal medicine? The French herbalist Maurice Mességué, in his autobiography Men, Herbs and Health (1971), tells of his childhood in the fragrant countryside of Gers and how his father taught him to observe and learn from animals the beneficial properties of plants (“Treasure, it is not by running in every direction, on all roads, that you learn life. It is by looking at it, and they, as you can see, know it longer than we do”). From the weasel that before giving battle to the vipers rolls on the plantain, effective against the stings of bees and the venom of the vipers, to the wounded chamois that is made alone, with the mouth, a clay and herb impiaster…
  • Plants know how to be friends and bitter enemies of man, so the herbalist must know in depth properties and harmful effects. An example? We find it in life and in Christopher McCandless’s autobiographical book entitled Into the wild. Known by the pseudonym of Alexander Supertramp, played by the Californian actor Emile Hirshc in the film shot by Sean Penn and released in Italy in 2008, McCandless left society after graduation to escape the laws of consumption and live a different life: he decided to reach Alaska on foot, starting from West Virginia. After two years of walking, he died on August 18, 1992 following food poisoning due to some poisonous seeds.