The Gilboa herbal remedy

A natural-food restaurant in the scenic Gilboa region serves up dishes that match its surroundings.

gilboa restaurant 88.298 (photo credit: )
gilboa restaurant 88.298
(photo credit: )
On top of a mountain with a stupendous view for miles sits one of the most successful individual family enterprises in the Gilboa region. In an area that graced the plate of nature with practically everything in the wildlife and fauna department of Mother Nature's store to be found in the country, the Gilboa Herb Farm and restaurant is off the beaten track yet nearly always crowded. Soon the famed black-blue-purple Gilboa iris will again be in bloom. The quick-on-the-draw flower power of this particular iris brings camera-toting, picnicking Israelis in droves to the Gilboa mountain range. The hills become alive with a continuous backing of oohs and aahs as photographers snap one of the most beautiful of flowers to be found in the country. However, for the better part of the year, the extensive mountain range is frequented by freewheeling bicycle riders, hikers and those out for a few hours to get away from it all. Making something from nothing is not easy, but when one starts off with the "nothing" being that which money cannot buy - the Gilboa's picturesque views and pastoral atmosphere, coupled with the fragrances and sounds of nature - then the fight for success is half won before the battle begins. In first, the proprietors of the Gilboa Herb Farm, the Mass family, lived without electricity and needed to bring in water by tractor on a daily basis. "We paid close attention to our surroundings and soon became sensitive to the myriad shapes and colors of things that grow, to the noise of the wind and of the cows coming down the mountain in the afternoon to drink," says co-owner and head chef, Pnina Mass. "We learned to distinguish the barking of our dogs, to recognize their special warning for approaching cars, wild rabbits or strange animals. This intimacy with nature is expressed in the food we eat: capers and sabra fruit in the summer, khoubaisa when the rains start, wild mushrooms in the winter. We cook with za'atar (hyssop) that grows on the nearby hills, brew tea with white zootah leaves found between the rocks, and harvest olives from the trees and manually press their oil - which is bitter at first but softens and mellows with age," she says. This sounds like another way of describing the Gilboa Herb Farm itself - bitter at first but softening and mellowing as time and blistered hands pass. They also produce sun-dried tomatoes and labeneh from goat's milk. The food on the Gilboa plate is seasoned with fresh herbs grown in the hothouses below, the bread is home baked, and the jam is homemade. "In our restaurant we try to remain true to our way of life, to use only fresh fruits and vegetables, avoid processed, commercial food and try to respect the colors, odors and moods of the seasons and express these differences in a constantly changing menu," says Mass. The Gilboa Herb Farm restaurant is a large wooden Alpine-type structure sitting high on a once-secluded site, now part of the massive nature reserve on the slopes of the Gilboa. The restaurant offers mouth-watering dishes inspired by French, Italian and Middle Eastern cuisine, seasoned and decorated with freshly picked herbs. The large wooden veranda offers a breathtaking view of the Jezreel Valley, the Golan Heights, the Galilee and the Carmel mountains - a huge portion of northern Israel, a patchwork of yellow, green and brown fields, red-roofed homes in moshavim and kibbutzim, afforested and bald hilltops and slopes.