Do You Need a Naturopath or a Medical Herbalist? That's a fair question!
There are a few overlaps and many differences between herbalists and naturopaths. Both play a significant role in the holistic health world; however, typically, the approach is quite different, and seeing one or the other may prove helpful at different times along your health journey. So, to help you get the basic idea, we put together a brief overview of the differences between these two holistic healthcare practices.
Herbs give us tools that conventional medicine simply doesn't have. Conventional medicine (pharmaceuticals) excels at treating acute conditions and symptom management. Despite what various blogs and herb sellers may tell you, you aren't going to find an herb that will mitigate headaches as quickly as a pill does. However, if you suffer from chronic pain, daily use of a pill can soon affect your liver. However, you can safely use some herbs daily for weeks or months to manage your pain, often to the point of not taking harsh pharmaceuticals at all. On the other hand, suppose you feel more comfortable using conventional medicine. In that case, herbs would still work well alongside pharmaceuticals to negate the damaging effects they can have on your body.
When it comes to treating chronic conditions, herbs can outshine common pharmaceuticals. That is because herbs are slower acting and have a cumulative effect, meaning they work best when taken consistently over time. This makes herbs more effective at resolving long-standing issues than simply treating the symptoms because they restore balance in the system where the problem is rooted.
Naturopathic doctors may act as a holistic option for primary health care for those interested in a preventative and "get to the root problem" perspective. They have to attend a minimum of a four-year accredited medical school. Naturopathic medicine is a discipline of medicine with specific training rooted in natural remedies. Naturopathic doctors can diagnose disease and order blood work and various lab tests in the search for the proper treatment. However, even though naturopaths hold the title of "Dr." or "ND," they are still formally not considered Medical Doctors.
Herbalists are not doctors and can't engage through the medical system. Herbalists are specialists in botanicals. They are specialists in the modern science of medicinal herbs and traditional herbal usage and philosophy. Herbalists have dedicated all of their education to specifically studying plant medicine and how to match herbs to people. Herbalists only use plant-based medicines to enable the body to self-heal. So yes, naturopathic doctors definitely have some training and knowledge in herbal medicine, but herbalists go deeper in their understanding and specialize solely in this field of healing.
Although every naturopath practices in their own unique way, generally speaking, many naturopaths will emphasize supplement use and 'nutraceuticals' (concentrated extracts of herbs). Naturopathic doctors often stock on pre-made formulas from the brands they like and trust. On the other hand, herbalists tend to use whole herb preparations and believe that the whole-herb solution is preferable for various scientific and philosophical reasons. Many people will initially see a naturopath for a diagnosis, explore treatment options, and switch to an herbalist to pursue long or short term herbal treatment. Some also choose to see both a naturopath and an herbalist as they can work together very effectively.
WHEN TO SEE A NATUROPATH:
☛ You are looking for a "holistically-oriented" primary care doctor.
☛ You'd like to explore some of the unconventional tools naturopaths offer (such as homeopathy, traditional Asian medicine, IV therapy, etc.).
WHEN TO SEE AN HERBALIST:
☛ You'd like customized herbal formulas tailored to your body and health needs.
☛ You don't have benefits to cover the cost of a naturopath (herbalists are more affordable if paying out of pocket, generally speaking).
☛ You've tried everything the conventional medical system has to offer, and it didn't resolve your health issue.
We hope this post helped you understand the difference between a naturopathic doctor and a herbalist. Making informed decisions for your health journey is super important, and choosing who is on your health care team can make a big difference. So follow your instinct and go with what feels right for you!