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— updated 2020-09-09


FAQ — frequently asked questions

About RMHI courses and certification options, choosing a school of Chinese herbology, finding a TCM herbalist.

by Roger W. Wicke, Ph.D.

Subtopics on this page…

Copyright ©1997-2019 by RMH-Publications Trust; all rights reserved.


Common myths about learning and practicing Chinese herbology

We have prepared a separate article that answers the most common questions potential students ask us about legal/licensing requirements, ability to purchase Chinese herbs, and competency issues. Please read this article first, because these are questions that every serious student should be asking:


RMHI courses and certification options


What educational programs does RMHI offer in clinical Chinese herbology? What are current course schedules and tuition fees?

For a quick comparison of the features and requirements of the different levels of professional education we offer, see


What makes RMHI unique among schools of TCM?

To the best of my knowledge, no other TCM school has anything approaching RMHI's software-based, interactive-learning curriculum.


What are the prerequisites for applying for admission and enrolling in RMHI's Chinese herbal sciences programs (Levels 1, 2, or 3) and how do I get started?

For additional information about RMHI's unique admissions requirements, and why we have designed them that way:


May I try out the interactive-learning software before I purchase a regular license or enroll?

You may download a limited Free version-option of HerbalThink-TCM, which will only provide you with access to the Documentation module and allow you to verify that it will work on your computer. However, to gain access to the introductory course contents (the first 15% of the Level-1 course) plus samples of the advanced reference data and interactive games will require enrollment in Herbalists' BootCamp, which is an easy, low-cost way to determine if TCM herbal health care is something you would like to study in greater depth.


How selective is RMHI's admissions policy?

Even many physicians have commented that learning TCM herbology is in many ways more complex to learn than western medicine. While western medicine is replete with detail, the final medical diagnosis of disease is based on relatively simplistic reasoning — often, too simplistic. Chinese herbology, on the other hand, evolved as a low-tech method for making effective decisions solely from the patterns of symptoms and clinical signs that can be directly observed by either the individual or the practitioner; the rules and protocols for correctly evaluating these patterns require that students exercise high levels of cognitive skill. Consequently, RMHI's admissions policy is selective by necessity.

We estimate that about 10% or less of the population has the combination of ability, persistence, and motivation to learn the reasoning skills required to perform clinical TCM herbology at a level essential to handling the complex health problems typical of people in industrialized nations. This estimate of 10% is based on the observation that about 10% of the people expressing serious interest in our herbal program actually follow through to the point of successfully passing our admissions exam. As Dr. C.S. Cheung has frequently reminded me, TCM master herbalists throughout history have commented on the difficulty of becoming skilled at TCM herbology and have noted that accuracy in assessing a client's patterns of disharmony is the root skill upon which clinical success or failure depends. The problem is that until recently, we had no way to adequately measure aptitude for these skills among potential applicants. Now we do, and the good news is that potential applicants can pre-screen themselves by taking a self-administered aptitude test.

Is enrolling in RMHI's online courses right for me?

Levels 1 and 2 are offered via online and computer-interactive instruction. Online education works best if you:

  • Are self-disciplined and self-motivated
  • Are comfortable using PC's, the Internet, and email
  • Have set aside the required time (10-15 hours per week) to devote to study and course work
  • Are comfortable following written instructions to learn new procedures and methods
  • Are able to participate in online group activities like email discussion groups

What is RMHI's educational philosophy?

Discover whether RMHI's educational philosophy will be appropriate for you.

The following articles explain how and why our courses have evolved differently from the rote-memorization curriculum at many TCM colleges and how individual students can regain control over their own education:


What are current course schedules and tuition fees?

For a summary of details about the three levels of professional education we offer, including schedule and fees, see


How do RMHI's admissions policies and tuition fees compare with those at most TCM colleges?

Tuition fees for our Level-1 course are far less than tuition at most TCM colleges, because we have automated much of the material in the form of interactive software. However, if you are seeking a quick and easy way to become certified, RMHI is not the right choice for you. Our admissions requirements are more stringent than at most TCM colleges, because we wish to ensure that admitted students have the self-discipline and ability to do the work. RMHI graduates who have previously attended TCM colleges commonly report that RMHI's curriculum is significantly more demanding. Our aspiring herbalists' aptitude test, described in "Getting started; applying for admission; guidelines for Level-1 students", is designed to test applicants' skills in complex pattern recognition, something that is not measured by conventional educational achievement exams.


What type of certification does RMHI offer?

  • Each type of certificate of completion that RMHI awards is a statement of fact regarding the courses completed and the estimated number of hours involved, and represents achievement of a standard of quality recognized by TCM professionals and herbalists. (Please note that RMHI is not a college and does not award academic degrees.)
  • Previous graduates have applied our courses toward college degree credit, continuing medical education requirements, and professional certification in Chinese herbology.

Is RMHI accredited?

In short, no, not by the NCCAOM nor by anyone else. RMHI's educational philosophy differs radically from that of most other TCM colleges and the accreditation system that has been created for their benefit. American education, including that for TCM, has been a disaster, and part of the blame lies directly with the school accreditation system.

Our educational philosophy is very similar to that of John Taylor Gatto (The Underground History of American Education: and Ron Paul (the Ron Paul Curriculum website for homeschoolers: Here is the Ron Paul Curriculum's response to the issue of accreditation:

The Ron Paul curriculum is not accredited by any government agency. As a favor to the state we are willing to allow public schools to adopt our curriculum, as long as they pay the full tuition. We do not discriminate against handicapped people. The educrats are conceptually challenged. We fully understand. They need help. They need a decent curriculum. We have just what they need.
We say this about every accreditation system. They must apply to us for accreditation. We will not apply to them.

The preceding is also our philosophy.

At RMHI we have focused all our efforts on continually improving our curriculum, not our bureaucracy. We are not a college and do not award degrees.

  • Many health professionals, including doctors, have used our courses to satisfy CEU requirements and credit toward university degree programs.
  • Several foreign physicians have taken our courses under sponsorship by their governments.
  • Among our students have been graduates of TCM colleges who recognize the quality of our curriculum and desire to fill in gaps in their knowledge and understanding.
  • Although many Chinese herb distributors state on their websites that they sell only to licensed health practitioners, the vast majority make an exception for our graduates. One wholesaler has stated that RMHI is the only school for which he makes that exception.

Read what other students, TCM professionals, physicians, and educators have said about our software-based distance learning courses.

You may refer your professional or educational organization to our detailed curriculum page for more information and to help determine whether RMHI's courses meet their requirements.


General questions about preparing to practice as a Chinese (TCM) herbalist


How do I determine if studying Chinese herbology makes sense to me?

  • Chinese herbology, correct and incorrect ways of choosing herbs. Choosing herbs can often be a haphazard endeavor without some way to organize and make sense of the huge amount of information available to us. Find out how the traditional Chinese herbal sciences help us to choose herbs more precisely, without side effects.
  • Test your knowledge of common and popular herbs. A short quiz with answers, illustrating how traditional Chinese herbal (TCM) methods help us choose herbs correctly. After taking this quiz and checking the answers, you may be surprised how herbs may sometimes be misused.

What are the legal issues I need to consider?

In the U.S., herbalists generally do not need licenses to practice as long as they follow certain guidelines established by the courts. Read the following articles for details:

  • Strategies for defending your rights as an herbalist. Many alternative health practitioners are vaguely aware of the desirability of avoiding claiming to treat or cure disease, in order to avoid being accused of practicing of medicine without a license. Here is the low-down, complete with U.S. and state Supreme Court case citations, that explicitly outlines the boundaries that herbalists and other alternative practitioners must not cross. Know your rights and obligations so that you can practice lawfully and ethically. Note: a state health-care practice license (massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc) does not necessarily protect you from the need to know this information.
  • Herbalists' guidelines for avoiding the practice of medicine. Conclusions and guidelines are derived from the preceding articles to help herbalists defend their right to assist and educate the public.

For a clinical herbalist, how important is knowing about diet and environmental factors in illness?

  • Diet and nutrition checklists: basic food information for healthy eating. Beside the three major vices of tobacco, alcohol, and excessive sugar, discover many of the lesser-known evils of modern society that together may account for over 70% of all chronic illness in America.
  • Environmental hazards to eliminate or minimize. Checklist of common household and workplace chemical and electromagnetic hazards.
  • Modest proposals for the improvement of traditional Chinese herbal education, with guidelines for the self-motivated student. Read the section on "diet, environmental health and social factors".

Choosing a school of Chinese herbology — how do I know if a school of Chinese herbology or traditional Chinese medicine will adequately prepare me to become an effective practitioner?

Questions you should ask about educational methods, homework, and instructor experience before enrolling in Chinese herbology programs at TCM schools or colleges. Making the right choice will determine the difference between receiving a gold-embossed paper and becoming an effective herbalist.

Many beginning students of herbology ask us what type of certificate they will receive, what professional titles are awarded, etc. (RMHI offers a certificate of completion to those who complete all requirements of the professional Chinese herbology curriculum.) Since herbalists in the U.S. and many other countries do not require licenses to help others improve their health with herbs (see "The right to practice herbology, legal history and basis"), a far more important question should be "How well does the curriculum prepare one to become an effective herbalist?" Many of our course participants are physicians and health professionals already, and they should be more concerned about acquiring practical clinical skills than accumulating yet more pieces of paper. The following specific questions should help you plan your herbology education.

To learn more about what should be included in a quality TCM herbology education, read "Modest proposals for improving traditional Chinese herbal education".


How much homework is required for each course, especially the core courses of TCM herbology?

Many schools attempt to minimize the amount of written homework problems, because they are time-consuming to grade, and instructors have to be paid for their time. In addition, some state and national accrediting boards do not take into account estimated homework time in awarding course units, because they are difficult to estimate and document, instead merely counting the number of hours spent sitting in the classroom. However, any curriculum that avoids significant homework cannot be considered a serious academic program. Continual feedback from an instructor who corrects errors in thinking on homework problems is a time-tested method for ensuring understanding and competence.


Is the course homework meaningful and relevant to learning how to solve real clinical problems, or is it make-work?

Students currently enrolled in the program may not be as good judges of program quality as former graduates who have started practicing. These latter individuals will know whether their education was relevant or not, since they will be able to measure it by the percentage of clients they have been able to help!


Do the instructors engage students in active thinking or do they emphasize mere ability to memorize lists of information without intellectual context?

Memorization is an important practical requirement, but is useless if not accompanied by an understanding of what the information means and how it is applied clinically. A significant percentage of TCM school graduates focus on memorizing properties of hundreds of herbs to pass multiple-choice exams, yet become frustrated by their inability to use this information to create successful herbal formulas.


Do instructors require students to do supervised and independent case study write-ups?

If so, do the instructors provide detailed feedback and correct specific errors? Or is much of the clinical training spent passively observing the instructor-clinician? Passive learning is not nearly as effective as constant feedback and correction of students' mistakes. To learn TCM pulse palpation technique and interpretation of tongue appearance, it is crucial that the instructor offer immediate and detailed feedback; one simply cannot learn these techniques by listening to lectures or passively watching someone else do it.


Are consulting services from instructors available following graduation?

Such services ease the transition from the closely supervised academic setting to fully independent practice. Often clinical techniques may seem easy when performed under the watchful eyes of an experienced instructor. Phone consultations and on-going assistance during the first year of practice can help the novice herbalist handle difficult cases and consolidate skills previously learned under supervision.


Does the school offer essential preparation in the legal, ethical, and business aspects of operating an herbal consultation practice?

If so, is the course offered by an academic theoretician or by someone who has been in the trenches of clinical practice? One's perspective changes drastically when faced with the practical problems in the real world. Academics and scholars, regardless of how well meaning, have mostly been protected from the shocks that may occasionally affect practicing herbalists, such as the assault by federal agents on the offices of Jonathan Wright, MD, in Washington state. How many schools prepare novice herbalists to understand current medical politics and to protect themselves from such assaults on their freedom?


Finding a TCM herbalist

Chinese herbal formulas have been used for several thousand years to facilitate greater health. Today China still relies on herbs for maintaining the health of its population because of their effectiveness and low cost. The World Health Organization has recommended introduction of Chinese health practices to other Third World areas, and an increasing number of states in the U.S. are recognizing it as an important health care option.

Clients generally find that even if their insurance does not cover herbal supplements, their effectiveness in restoring health often results in significant long-term cost savings.


Why are medical diagnoses or single symptom complaints not enough information to correctly choose herbs?

Perhaps the most common type of question we are asked is "What herb or herb formula should I take for disease X [arthritis, psoriasis, candida, kidney stones, etc.]?" Many people looking for herbal alternatives have learned to define their problems in terms of such medical labels. However, to be genuinely "holistic", we must recognize that such labels often only touch the surface of our problems, and that to choose herbs and herbal formulas solely on the basis of such medical terminology will give haphazard results at best. This approach may result in mere suppression of symptoms without resolving deeper factors. At worst, it may result in side effects because contraindications were overlooked.

A medical diagnosis or complaint of a single symptom (headache, fatigue) is not enough information to determine a correct herbal formula. To understand why this is almost always the case, see "Chinese herbology, correct and incorrect ways of choosing herbs". (Reading this short article may help you save thousands of dollars by avoiding herbs and supplements that are unnecessary or even contraindicated for your condition.) If a person claiming to be a TCM herbalist offers to sell you an herbal formula based only on a single complaint or medical diagnosis, and without inspecting tongue or pulse and without taking a health history, you should consider going elsewhere.


How do I recognize a competent TCM herbalist?

(1) A properly trained TCM herbalist will almost always insist upon inspecting one's tongue, feeling the pulse at both wrists, and asking about chief symptoms or complaints. Pulse palpation and tongue inspection are two methods for determining the nature of an individual's health imbalances that have evolved over a period of several thousand years. Many important aspects of one's metabolism, circulatory system health, and systemic patterns such as edema or dehydration show up first as abnormalities of the tongue coating, fissures in the tongue tissue, variations in tissue color, appearance of the sublingual veins, and as abnormalities in radial pulse strength, pulse pressure profile, rate, rhythm, and other characteristics. The standard TCM pulse method is to feel the pulse at each of 3 positions along the radial artery of each wrist, and this procedure usually takes a few minutes to do thoroughly, especially for new clients.

(2) Diet, environmental quality, and a person's work and social situation are important factors in health. Like herbs, foods, air and water quality may also have strong effects on one's health, for better or worse. A thorough TCM herbalist will ask about these factors during the first few visits. Environmental toxicity and inappropriate diet are the most common reasons why herbal formulas might not work well, in spite of being correctly chosen otherwise. Environmental factors and diet may account for 70-80% of all chronic illnesses in America, and by inquiring about these, the herbalist may determine simple and often inexpensive solutions to many of these health problems.


Does certification or licensing assure quality of care?

Professional certification and licensing, while often helping to eliminate grossly incompetent practitioners, does not solve the problem of institutional and governmental abuse of power. When our own government, corporations, and professional groups find it increasingly profitable to lie and to deceive the public, the only solution is for each of us to carefully scrutinize everything before acting, taking nothing for granted. Finding a knowledgeable practitioner in any field requires a good deal of personal judgment, intuition, self-education, and advice from friends. We must take our health into our own hands again. No one, especially a bureaucratic agency, should ever be allowed to override our own knowledge and instincts for survival.

See the following collection of articles to learn from history how professional licensing and regulation have frequently become two-edged swords:

In 2017, we launched RMHInet, a brainstorming-crowdsourcing network for self-motivated individuals seeking advice regarding health, wellness, and longevity. RMHInet provides an alternative to the status-quo healthcare system and its frequently corrupt licensure and certification systems.


How is acupuncture related to the practice of TCM herbology?

Acupuncture and Chinese herbology are two distinct clinical methods which are often practiced independently of each other in China. There are practitioners there who practice only acupuncture, others practice only herbology, and some practice both. It is generally more difficult to become competent in many specialities than to focus on one. In the U.S. it is important not to assume that all acupuncturists are trained equally well in Chinese herbology, since the latter is usually taught in separate courses that may or may not have been included in curricula at TCM colleges. There has been a trend among some colleges of acupuncture and TCM to increase the curriculum requirements in conventional allopathic medical training, while sacrificing curriculum hours formerly considered essential to education in TCM herbal methods.

Even thousands of years ago in ancient China, it was recognized that chronic internal disorders were best handled with herbs and herbal formulas rather than acupuncture. According to the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, "In order to terminate physical illnesses and to bring health, external diseases were treated with acupuncture and internal diseases with hot water or soups, and liquid medicines."


How affordable are the services of a typical TCM herbalist?

"When I began my studies in Traditional Chinese herbal sciences, I had no idea that it would save my family so much money by giving me the power to handle many of my family's health problems. The expense of my training since l993 has been fully recouped in the savings we've made over the last six years. We now use herbs instead of rushing to the doctor every time one of us has a cold, case of poison oak, bladder infection, menopausal hotflash, headache, and many other minor health problems. We have now increased the deductible on our health insurance and cut our premiums by half! Many of my clients do not have health insurance and thank me for having studied this wonderful method that affords them competent care at a very reasonable cost. Thank you Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute!" --Leonor A. Horden, LMT and TCM herbalist (RMHI graduate, 1994); Roseburg, Oregon

Consultation fees may vary, and TCM herbalists who also have medical training (physicians, nurses) will probably charge higher consultation fees that herbalists without such training. However, monthly costs including both herbal supplies and consultation fees should rarely total more than $200 per month, and in many cases can be as little as $100 per month. For chronic illnesses that slowly improve, the herbalist may see the client each month or so, giving herbal formula supplies for several weeks at a time. In acute conditions, or in complicated chronic conditions which change in character weekly or daily, more frequent visits are generally required.

When compared with most other forms of health care from professional providers, herbal health care is one of the most inexpensive. TCM herbalists can obtain dried bulk herbs at wholesale prices that are very reasonable. In contrast, multi-level marketing salesmen are usually unqualified to dispense any useful advice, and in some cases have bilked people of thousands of dollars for over-hyped herbal products. Why not spend a few extra dollars to obtain advice from properly trained herbalists that will spare you this nuisance?


What are the most effective ways to take Chinese herbs?

Dried bulk herbs cooked in water are the method recommended and used at the Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute. By cooking the herbs in water and filtering off the tea for drinking, all of the insoluble matter (cellulose and indigestible fiber) is eliminated, allowing greater amounts of soluble active ingredients to be absorbed in the digestive tract.

Although we prefer drinking teas made from dried whole herb products as the most effective and inexpensive mode of administering herbs, there may be valid reasons for using other forms. In very hot, humid climates where product shelf life is less, the herbalist may prefer herbal products dispensed in the form of gelatin capsules or otherwise hermetically sealed. In such cases, it is important to use spray-dried extracts (from which the non-soluble components have been removed) from reputable suppliers. This form of taking herbs is also more convenient for the client. However, once such powdered-dried extracts are opened or exposed to the air, their quality degrades quickly.

By using dried whole herbs, the herbalist has greater control over herb quality by being able to inspect products for species identity, freshness, and quality. Processed products such as pills, powders, tinctures, and extracts require trusting the manufacturing processes of the supplier, and herb quality may vary widely among suppliers. Moreover, patent herbal products from China (usually pills) often have had serious problems in the past because of their containing unlisted pharmaceutical drugs, heavy metals, and endangered animals and plants; we recommend these be avoided until these problems are convincingly rectified by Chinese manufacturers.

Dried whole herbs products from China are generally of comparable quality to whole herb products from other countries. Whereas herbalists who do not have extensive education in designing their own formulas will prefer using patent products (pills) because they are easier to dispense, Chinese herb distributors know that whole herb products tend to be used by the more competent and discriminating practitioners. Moreover, the highest quality Chinese herbs are often reserved for export to the U.S. and other foreign countries.


How long should one expect to take herbs before experiencing changes?

While herbs, in general, are not as fast acting as some pharmaceutical drugs, one should experience at least some improvement in health within a few weeks. If you are taking herbs without experiencing any results after a week or two, perhaps your formula needs to be changed, unhealthy foods eliminated from your diet, or other changes made. If you are being told to take herbs for long periods of time without seeing any benefits, or are experiencing side effects, perhaps you need to see another practitioner. Sometimes determining the correct herbal formula takes a bit of trial and error, although TCM herbal methods in the hands of a skilled herbalist should eliminate much of the guess work.


What about using "western" vs. "Chinese" herbs?

The methods of TCM herbology are equally applicable to using western herbs and foods. Your TCM herbalist may be able to give you advice on the more effective use of not only Chinese herbs but western herbs and even foods that have beneficial effects in improving health. There is nothing inherently superior about a "Chinese" herb. Many of the herbs listed in the official TCM materia medica include such common herbs as dandelion, rhubarb root, fennel, licorice root, and many others. Clinical Chinese herbalists have long incorporated herbs from all over the world into their system of health care.

While many people point out that it is preferable to use food and herb products that are grown locally for economic and social reasons, the reality is that even herbs that are commonly considered to be "western" herbs are in fact grown and collected for commercial sale from all over the world. The argument that "Chinese" herbs are not suitable for westerners is an absurd conclusion that would lead to the elimination of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg from our kitchens as well as many other useful medicinal herbs.

Here is an article for beginners that explains the importance of tastes/flavors in understanding the physiological effects of herbs and foods:


Where can I find additional information about using herbs to improve health and finding an herbalist in my area?