Some Notes on the American Herbalists Guild

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The American Herbalists Guild (AHG), which is headquartered in Canton, Georgia, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization that was founded in 1989 to represent the goals and voices of herbalists. The AHG Web site lists nine goals:

The Web site further notes:

Careers in herbalism include working within the herb industry as an herb buyer, formulator, researcher, consultant, retailer, grower, medicine maker, writer/journalist, or educator. Some herbalists have found positions working in practices with physicians or other practitioners. While there are opportunities for working in an integrative setting, this is not a solid career path because it is still illegal to practice herbal "medicine" as a non-licensed practitioner [2].

AHG has three membership categories. Professional membership is intended for herbal practitioners Applicants must submit a personal and professional biography outlining their experience and training in the field of herbal medicine, have at least two years experience working with clients, provide three case histories, and provide three letters of reference from professional herbalists (or other health professionals proficient in herbalism). General members are individuals who are interested in herbal medicine and agree to abide by the AHG's Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. Supporting members include schools, herb companies, individuals, or business entities who wish to support the Guild.

The above description may be missing important details. During 2003 and 2004, the AHG Web site contained a page called "Criteria for Professional Membership," which included the following:

1. Materia Medica—A working knowledge of at least 150 plants.
2. Therapeutics—Theoretical foundation for developing herbal treatment protocols, including a system of differential assessment. The following are accepted as primary methods of assessment: Western physical assessment, Chinese tongue diagnosis, Ayurvedic and Chinese pulse diagnosis, case history and medical history evaluation. The following methods can be utilized along with primary techniques but are not adequate as primary evaluation methods by themselves for the purpose of AHG membership: Iris diagnosis (Iridology), applied kinesiology (muscle testing), intuitive diagnosis, radiesthesia, Chinese facial diagnosis, hair analysis, sclerology (sclera analysis), and hara diagnosis. Other systems of assessment will have to be evaluated by the Admission Review Committee on an individual basis [3].

This is a very significant list. Except for "Western physical assessment"—which I assume means standard medical diagnosis and includes evaluation of the patient's history—none of the items on the list is a valid diagnostic method! Thus, except for medical school graduates, professional AHG membership appears to signify a high probability that a practitioner is not competent to make medical diagnoses. In August 2005, the AHG professional member directory listed 172 members, only a few of whom have had standard medical training.


This article posted on August 4, 2005.

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