An Israeli company is growing a special variety of mint and other herbs, which undergo a rigid disinfection process so that they are free of genetic diseases and viruses – without the use pesticides. Millions of dollars have been invested in the unique growing method thus far, and new herbs will be introduced in the future.

The entrance to the greenhouse at Alon Tavor is limited to few people, and even those who are authorized to enter must go through a thorough procedure that includes immersing their shoes in a special substance, wearing special robes and disinfecting their hands. “It’s like a hospital. It is an incubator for plants,” explained Ofir Elassar from the Israeli company Hishtil.

The atmosphere in the greenhouse is that of an operating room, and one can only touch the plants with sterile gloves and small scissors. These safety precautions are taken for a special variety of mint and other herbs, in which millions of dollars were invested in order to keep them free of genetic diseases and viruses. “We send the plants to a special lab in Holland where they clean them from viruses, fungi and bacteria,” Elassar explained. “Then we grow the clean plant and there is no need to spray it.”

The cleaning process for each variety of plant takes several years, after which it is kept in a vault. Despite the cumbersomeness and high costs, the goal is to have a bank of plants that are free from diseases that will serve as a supply of healthy plants all year round. “The process is intended to create high quality and added value for the customer, so that he has a herb without fear of pesticides,” explained Eyal Kleinberger, a chief agronomist at the greenhouse. “It is very difficult to create such a thing in a country as hot as ours.”

Some of the Israeli crops have been suffering from diseases in recent months, which has led amongst others to a sharp decline in produce, and even the pesticides don’t know how to deal with the viruses. As a result, the price of tomatoes has increased by 98% throughout the last year due to a disease-inflicted shortage. “The virus in tomatoes or in watermelons can start from one seed, but can disperse through the hands or shoes of people,” Elassar explained. “It is the maintaining of sterility which provides a clean source that allows to produce a clean product all year round.”

Only very few plants have gone through this disinfection process thus far due to the high costs and long development process, but as the demand for food increases, as does the demand to refrain from using pesticides, new plants will be introduced into Hishtil’s process.