Okra or Okro (scientific name is Hibiscus esculentus and Abelmoschus esculentus), known in many English-speaking countries as bhendi, ladies’ fingers, bhindi, gumbo, or bamia, is a flowering plant in the Malvaceae (mallows) family. In Japan, it is known as okura.
Its geographical origin is disputed, with supporters of West African, Ethiopian and South Asian origins.
Okra is cultivated in the tropical, sub-tropical low altitude regions of Africa, Asia, America and temperate regions of the Mediterranean basin.
Once loved by the Egyptians and still used in many dishes today, this pod-producing, tropical vegetable dates back over 3500 years ago.
It was introduced to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade by 1658 when its presence was recorded in Brazil. Thomas Jefferson noted it was well established in Virginia by 1781.
The species is perennial, grown as an annual plant in temperate climates and usually grow to around 2 meters tall. It is among the most heat and drought-tolerant vegetable species in the world and will endure soils with heavy clay and intermittent moisture, but frost can damage the pods.
Some have described the boiled, gummy version of the plant as similar to eggplant or zucchini, with more bitterness. When fried, it takes on the crunchiness of green beans.
In a bag in the fridge; they will last for 3 – 4 days. To store it in the freezer, put the uncooked and uncut pods into bags and then in the freezer. You can then prepare it any way you like throughout the winter months.
It contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, and K, folic acid, minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium and manganese, zinc, and dietary fiber.
The seeds are an excellent source of first-rate oils and vegetable protein, enriched with amino acids like cysteine, tryptophan, and other sulfur amino acids.
Uses and Health Benefits of Okra (ladies’ finger)
It is a popular health food due to its high fiber, vitamin C, and folate content. Additionally, it is known for being high in antioxidants.
In the study, „those who consume it periodically reduced clinical signs of kidney damage more than those that simply consume a diabetic diet.”
This also connects with diabetes, as nearly 40% of kidney disease cases are caused by diabetes.
One research indicates that recovery times and „fatigue levels” can be improved by use of this plant.
By including ladies’ fingers in your diet along with a healthy exercise routine, you may be able to work out for longer and recover more swiftly from your physical exercise.
Treats Vision Problems
It contains a precursor of vitamin A (beta-carotene), lutein and xanthin, all compounds with antioxidant properties, which prevent eye problems like glaucoma and cataract.
Antioxidants are powerful natural compounds that neutralize or destroy free radicals. It is an important function, because of the damage free radicals can do when they react with important cellular components such as cell membrane (including those responsible for vision) or DNA.
Introducing this plant in your diet allows a better protection for your vision, including cataracts and macular degeneration.
The high levels of vitamin A, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, calcium and zinc contained in this vegetable, make it an ideal vegetable to eat during pregnancy. In addition, it serves as a supplement for folic acid and fiber.
This helps prevent birth defects like spina bifida (which is a birth defect where there is an incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord) and can even stop constipation during pregnancy. Folic acid also prevents miscarriage. Source
This plant helps lubricate the large intestines due to its bulk laxative qualities. The fiber ensures bulk in stools and absorbs water. This helps prevent constipation.
Moreover, frequent consumption of this plant facilitates the propagation of good bacteria, also known as probiotics. These are identical to the ones proliferate by the yogurt in the small intestine and helps the biosynthesis of Vitamin B complex.
Another study published in the Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences discovered that extracts from this plant could protect against diabetes.
When rats with diabetes were given Abelmoschus esculentus, they saw a decrease in their blood sugar levels and a normalization of their lipid profile levels.
Multiple in vitro and in vivo researchers have found this plant to be a major blood glucose-lowering food, due to its large quantities of soluble dietary fiber.
A study has also shown that ladies’ fingers possess the ability to fight depression, although some vegetables and fruits have been shown to have different effects on mood, and the capacity to elevate one’s mood (quercetin and flavonoids).
Scientists from the Mazandaran University of Medical Science decided to examine the effects of consuming this plant on mood and it showed that the seed extracts acted as strong agent for uplifting mood, in some cases performing just as well as common antidepressants.
Seemingly, its beneficial mood effect can be attributed to its high total flavonoid and phenol content.
In a study entitled „Glycosylated compounds from Hibiscus esculentus inhibit adhesion of Helicobacter pylori to human gastric mucosa”, the crude polysaccharide isolated from the fresh juice by ethanolic precipitation exposed strong inhibitory effects.
Fresh juice from this plant inhibited the bacterial adhesion almost entirely in the gastric mucosa. The anti-adhesive qualities were assumed to be due to a combination of highly acidic sugar compounds and glycoproteins making up a complex three-dimensional structure that is completely developed only in the fresh juice of the fruit.
Mucilage of Ladies’ Fingers as Potential Pharmaceutical Adjutant
A research published in the „International Journal of PharmTech Research 2009” entitled „Evaluation of Abelmoschus Esculentus Mucilage as Suspending Agent in Paracetamol Suspension” suggests that the extracted mucilage of the fruit is non-toxic and has the potential as a suspending agent even at lower concentration (4%w/v) and can be used as a pharmaceutical adjuvant.
Accordingly, the mucilage can be employed as thickener and stabilizer of choice when high viscosity’s desired particularly in pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries.
Natural Hair Conditioner
It is also used to improve the aspect of hair: cut the fruit into small pieces and boil, and then let it cool. Mix with lemon juice and water and apply on the hair as shampoo mixture, for about fifteen minutes, then rinse with clean water.
Nutrients and mucus and the fruit’s content combined with lemon juice will help your hair become shiny and strong.
It is a storehouse of magnesium, an essential mineral which helps dilate blood vessels. An improved blood flow to the genitals ultimately leads to higher arousal for men.
Preparing and Cooking
The fibrous, five to fifteen cm long fruits are best when eaten fresh and a little immature. If you buy pods that have been left on the fruit stand for too long, they become woody and don’t taste so great.
Stay away from those that look dry or sunken and have discolored cuts or spots.
How to serve
While buying it, always look at the fresh, green ones that appear tender. If you try to break it in half, it should easily break, without much trouble. Always look for smaller pods because they taste better than the larger ones.
To maintain the best nutritional value of okra, it is suggested not to overcook it. Sliced or chopped pods can be fried as fritters and then mixed with other vegetables.
The gel inside is a thickening agent, making it a frequent ingredient in some soups. If you’d like to start to use it as a part of your diet, you can start with a simple recipe.
Side Effects of Okra
The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that no brass, copper or iron cooking vessels should be employed in cooking this plant due to the metal that will be absorbed. The cooking should be done in porcelain, agate or earthenware.
It is an extraordinarily nutritious vegetable non-toxic and safe for consumption even for pregnant women and young children.