The January flurry has come and gone. The Class of 2016 has finished their first intensive and they have headed home to begin integrating what they learned into their directed study. The interns of Class 28 returned from their winter break, refreshed and ready to hit the ground running. In addition to their acupuncture patients, they are now taking on patients in the herbal clinic (hint, hint. If anyone is interested in addressing their health needs through herbal medicine, call the clinic!). They have also spent the last week with renowned Botanist, 7Song, learning the fundamentals of Botany and plant science. Meanwhile, Class 29 arrived for their third session of herbal studies and the long fifth session of acupuncture training.  By the end of their time with us they had taken (and passed) a point location exam on the CV/GV meridians and had their first clinical skills assessment.

Whew! Not exactly the peaceful stillness of winter that our Water element needs to replenish its stores. But hopefully, that’s what February is for.

Plant StudyAs the herb students in Class 28H headed for Paynes Prairie on Wednesday for a day of plant study in nature, they reminded me of a central admissions question. Most prospective students call with their interest in the acupuncture program and ask about the herbal studies program  like an afterthought. They want to know if the herbal program is a requirement and how many students take both the acupuncture and herbal programs simultaneously. A few are already definite in whether or not they are going to take the program and so the conversation moves forward quickly. But for those who have not made up their minds, the herbal program requires sincere consideration.

Herbal studies is not an afterthought, or something that we “tack onto” the acupuncture program. It is an ancient form of healing that was meant to be used as a complement to acupuncture treatment. It adds considerable breadth to one’s practice. The Academy’s program is 27 months long, taught in the intensive format just like the acupuncture program. The two programs are scheduled together because they are intended to be taken concurrently. Students graduate with their Master of Acupuncture degree and their Certificate in Herbal Studies at the same time, making it easier to move forward in the exam and licensing process. While the herbal and acupuncture clinics are technically separate (they run on different days of the week), they take place at the same stage of training so that students come down for one clinical year. Interns who get to treat a patient with acupuncture and herbs learn valuable information on the complementary nature of both systems of medicine. It also does wonders for furthering patient/practitioner rapport.

I’ll talk about the reasons to take the herbal studies program in a moment, but it is also important to consider reasons not to.  There is the added tuition cost and the extra time students have to be in Gainesville for intensives. Herbal study also requires a LOT of memorization (you are essentially learning a new language with herbs), which few choose as their preferred learning style. Our Academic Dean always recommends studying 15 minutes of herbs every day. It sounds like so little, but when you’re already balancing one academic program with the daily demands of work, family and life, 15 minutes becomes a luxury.

So again, why study herbs? First and foremost, there may be a technical reason to do so. The state you want to practice in may require herbal training. Many states, Florida included, require practitioners to have studied herbs in order to become licensed. And several states are entertaining new regulations that will require successful passage of the NCCAOM Chinese Herbology exam. Put simply: herbal study might be a necessity if you want to practice acupuncture. Every state is different, though, so it’s important to contact your state acupuncture board to be certain. Keep in mind also that regulations change. If the state is leaning towards requiring herbal training when you start the  program, legislation may go through in the 3 years it takes you to graduate. Additionally, 10 years after you graduate and get licensed you may find yourself moving to a state that requires herbal training. There is no license reciprocity between states. So, it’s best to be prepared from the beginning.

Additionally, our herbal program is an 8 Principle-based program that goes into greater depth on the patterns of disharmony that are fundamental to TCM theory. Students who take both the acupuncture and herbal program have an easier time studying and passing their NCCAOM exams because they’ve been working with and integrating the practice of TCM theory in a clinical setting. That isn’t to say that our Five Element acupuncture students don’t pass their boards. I can happily report that they DO pass their exams with the same regularity that TCM students do. But clinical experience goes a long way in helping to understand the concepts you’re studying for a test.

But there’s a better reason to take the herb program: you may love it. Students who were hesitant at first about taking the program often come back to me and tell me how much they love studying herbs. They never could have guessed before hand that memorizing the names and indications of each herb can be just as beautiful and poetic as studying the associations of the Five Elements. Herbal study asks students to think about the body, its systems and functions in a different way. Herbs are nature’s pharmacy after all, and discovering the  different interactions, connections and correlations is absolutely fascinating. As a result, students have a better understanding of how the body falls out of  balance and the various ways practitioners can right that balance.

Herbal studies interns will come to me and gush (literally gush) about how much they love being in the herb dispensary, how working with the herbs, smelling, touching and tasting them brings them to life. It broadens their prospective of what “natural” medicine is, how what we consume is so important to our health. It provides reverence for nature and the workings of the human body. The Botany class got to see that up-close and personal this week as they collected plant samples and learned about natural first aid remedies.

Botany Class Samples

We have something of a tradition here at the Academy. Into each class is born the Herb Nerd. It is, admittedly, an unfortunate nickname but it is a compliment of the highest order. The Herb Nerd is crowned by the class as the member who seems to have a sixth sense about herbal study and usage. They are the ones who find the amazing organizational system for studying that enables the rest of the class to catch on. They are the ones who spend those extra hours with their herb kits, reading Bensky for fun and signing up for extra shifts in the dispensary. They do it for the love of herbs and what herbs can do for health and well-being. As I said, there’s one in every class. You never know, it might be you.

For more information on our Certificate in Herbal Studies, please contact Admissions directly or visit the program page of our website, For current students and practitioners seeking to delve further into the world of herbs, sign up for our two upcoming workshops with Thea Elijah on March 2nd and March 3rd.