Wednesday, September 28, 2022

INTERESTING FOLKS: Yelena Choban

Yelena Choban, Local Herbalist

Blairstown herbalist uses her knowledge of herbs to share peace and cure what ails…

Yelena Choban, now 70, is best known as a gardener and herbalist who’s homemade herb teas are enjoyed by many. Choban often carries a thermos of her tea that she shares with her friends. She is always well dressed, has a sharp memory and is thoughtful, never forgetting a friend’s birthday. 

Her knowledge is a culmination of years of research and hands-on experience. She has worked at Genesis Farm, located in Frelinghuysen, NJ for over 20 years. Choban means shepherd in Ukrainian. In a way, she’s been quietly shepherding the many kinds of herbs grown at the farm. Chapan grew up  in Moldova, a little country between Ukraine and Russia. She speaks Romanian, Russian and English. 

Her interest in herbs started when she was a small child and her father would take her out foraging for anything they could find and use, including thyme, chamomile, wild sage and berries. When Choban was a little older, her father brought home an herbal book that she found to be very interesting. She devoured this book, taking notes, and identifying the local plants in her backyard. Choban has since developed a lifelong love of gardening, seed saving, transplanting, herbal cuisine and herbal medicine.

While living at her family home, Choban was a respected herbalist treating many in the area. Choban’s married sister, husband and 3 year old daughter also shared the home. Choban recalled one day hearing her sister frantically screaming from the kitchen. Her daughter had stepped into a pot of boiling hot water.  “Yelena what should I do?”  

Choban said, “I quickly shredded carrots, potatoes, and pumpkin, then added some vodka.”  The key ingredient is the potato, immediately alleviating the pain and soothing the burn so healing can occur. Choban nursed the child, applying a fresh mixture every five minutes to the throbbing wound. By the next day, her niece’s skin was burnt, but it could have been much worse. Her skin did not bubble or blister.

In 1990, Choban moved to Newton. She decided to enroll at Sussex County Community College and took English as a second language. She asked her professor where Stinging Nettle grows because in her country they have a tradition every day in March to make a different recipe cooked with Stinging Nettle. “You will feel energized, invigorated, transformed,”  Choban explained. 

This professor’s husband is one of the head gardeners at Genesis Farm, in Frelinghuysen, New Jersey where Stinging Nettle is in abundance. A trip was planned the following Saturday which just happened to be the 1998 Summer Solstice, a big event at the farm. Choban fondly recalls, “It was a very special day for me. I met Sister Miriam and others I now call my friends!” Chobans was hired shortly after that day.

She has had many positions at the farm including assistant vegetarian chef, responsible for providing three meals a day to the many interns from all over the world staying at the farm’s learning center. Yelena says “Genesis Farm is so beautiful! It is a paradise to me. I like the people. They are family to me.”

One night, while staying at the farm with her daughter, Choban’s herbal knowledge proved essential again when the girl had a painful earache. In anguish, her daughter begged Choban to take her to the hospital. 

“No need to go to the hospital, I am your doctor,” Choban explained. Choban began treatment by putting a couple of drops of Mullein and Garlic juice in the infected ear. Next, she heated up a brick in her oven, wrapped it in a towel and placed it on her daughter’s pillow. Her daughter was instructed to sleep on it all night keeping the ear warm. Mullein and Garlic oil have antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. In the morning Choban’s daughter was fine.

“Being an Herbalist is a lifelong passion of mine. I use the winter to study and prepare for the warm seasons ahead. I encourage you all to start your own garden,” Choban shared. And, she often quotes from two inspirational artists, Claude Monet who said, “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”  And, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,”  as Audrey Hepburn said.

Choban gladly shared this recipe:  

                            Lemon Tonic – For Energy   

  • 6 organic lemons – wash the skin, chop and remove pits
  • 3 large Organic garlic bulbs – separated, skin removed
  • 300 grams of honey – approximately 1 1/4 cups of honey
  • Puree all ingredients in a food processor; you may need to process this mixture twice.
  • Transfer ingredients into a glass jar and cover with cheese cloth.
  • Place this jar in a dark place at room temperature for 10 days. 
  • Strain the liquid out, squeezing all the juice out with the cheese cloth. 
  • This is the tonic. Always date your tonic and keep it in the refrigerator. 
  • Dilute a tablespoon of lemon tonic in half a cup of warm water. Drink this a half hour before eating twice a day. 

“Being an Herbalist is a lifelong passion of mine. I use the winter to study and prepare for the warm seasons ahead. I encourage you all to start your own garden,” Choban shared. And, she often quotes from two inspirational artists, “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece,” said Claude Monet. “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,” Audrey Hepburn said.

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