Bastyr University Rolls Out New Herbal Medicine BS Program

(January 8, 2002) The first accredited herbal sciences degree program in the U.S. rolled out this fall. Bastyr University initiated this academic program in response to the growing demand for herbal studies expertise faced by the health care industry. The first class of 29 Bastyr students is now learning a very science-based introduction to herbs.

Modern health care industry demands herbalism expertise
The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of the world’s population relies chiefly on traditional medicines — the majority of which are plant extracts — for their primary health care needs. And WebMD estimates that 15 to 20 percent of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from natural sources.

WebMD also reports American spending of approximately $591 million dollars on herbal products in the year 2000, along with a recent decline in herbal sales. This decline can be partially attributed to negative media coverage. Also a key factor is consumer mistrust and lack of information, since so many over-the-counter herbal products are yet unregulated and unproven.

This just spurs the health care industry’s urgent demand for expertise in this field. To understand and utilize herbal remedies effectively, today’s herbalists must rigorously know their botany and ehtnobotany, chemistry and pharmacology.

Herbal sciences program opens doors
Students graduate from Bastyr’s herbal sciences program prepared to enter the herbal products industry in related health care fields such as naturopathic medicine. They may also pursue further education with master’s degree programs in public health, pharmacognosy, ethnobotany and medical herbology. Graduates have the option to go into a clinical program, the herbal products industry, graduate school or research. Learn more about Bastyr’s herbal sciences program and curricula.

Bastyr’s Robin Dipasquale, ND, who chairs the new academic program, formalized her passion for herbs with a naturopathic medicine (ND) degree, “It has opened up a lot of doors for me to have a naturopathic license,” she says. “It has also validated what I know to be the truth.”

Dipasquale adds, “It feels supportive to be in a community that thinks the way I do [about the healing power of nature]. It’s hard to be out there doing alternative medicine without that backing.”

As chair of Bastyr University’s botanical medicine department and also a practicing naturopathic physician, Dipasquale enjoys her involvement with the Bastyr herb garden, the herbarium and the student herb lab.

Bastyr’s academic curriculum emphasizes core sciences
The herbal sciences degree program provides a scientifically rigorous and inspiring exploration of herbalism and its applications. Students explore concepts of herbology that focus on plant identification, pharmacology and trends in medicinal uses. They acquire an understanding of herbal product manufacturing, including quality assurance issues.

The program is a two-year bachelor’s completion program with optional placement in a practicum. “We are emphasizing how the sciences and plants can be interfaced. It is an introduction to foundational aspects of plants and plant medicine. The response to this program has been excellent,” says Dipasquale.

“The herbal sciences curriculum approaches the field from multiple perspectives, with a depth of core science courses and an introductory survey that is not available from any other accredited institution. I see it as a wonderful opportunity for undergraduate students to experience very diverse aspects of herbal science and develop a better sense of how they want to apply their education to continued studies and career choices.”

— Lise Alshuler, ND
Clinic Medical Director
Former Chair, Botanical Medicine Department
Bastyr University

The curriculum of the BS degree in herbal sciences does not include the diagnosis and treatment of disease, but rather introduces the student to concepts of disease prevention and health maintenance using medicinal herbs. The curriculum addresses economic, historical and sociopolitical perspectives regarding the herbal sciences. It offers students a substantial breadth of perspectives and approaches in the herbal sciences.

Studies are based upon scientific inquiry in the herbal sciences, encompassing both ancient and modern medicinal philosophies. Students take courses in anatomy, physiology, organic chemistry, biochemistry and botany during the first year of this program. A core sequence of courses focuses on the history and diverse world traditions of herbal use, preparations, pharmacognosy, pharmacology and medicinal actions of dozens of herbs. Several courses also discuss the impact of herbs on the health of children, pregnant women, adults and elders. Research courses, for example, teach students to interpret scientific literature on medicinal herbs. Additional courses also familiarize the students with environmental, economic and political issues surrounding the herbal sciences. Electives covering a wide array of herbal topics are also available. Take a look at some of the herbal sciences degree courses Bastyr University offers.

Finally, the student completes an optional placement practicum with herbal manufacturers, herb growers, wildcrafters, practitioners or researchers. Upon completion of this program, each student is uniquely qualified to enter the herbal industry or to pursue further education in a related field.

The founding of an herbal sciences academic program by an accredited university such as Bastyr makes gallant strides in further supporting the scientific integrity of herbology as a valid form of health care.

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Written by Lise Alshuler ND

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