Okra: Africa’s Gift to the World

Okra, Lady’s Fingers

Encyclopedia Britannica
(Hibiscus, or Abelmoschus, esculentus), herbaceous, hairy, annual plant of the mallow family (Malvaceae). It is native to the tropics of the Eastern Hemisphere and is widely cultivated or naturalized in the tropics and subtropics of the Western Hemisphere for its edible fruit. The leaves are heart-shaped and three- to five-lobed; the flowers are yellow with a crimson centre. The fruit or pod, hairy at the base, is a tapering, 10-angled capsule, 10–25 cm (4–10 inches) in length (except in the dwarf varieties), that contains numerous oval, dark-coloured seeds. Only the tender, unripe fruit is eaten. It may be prepared like asparagus, sauteed, or pickled, and it is also an ingredient in various stews and in the gumbos of the southern United States; the large amount of mucilage (gelatinous substance) it contains makes it useful as a thickener for broths and soups. The fruit is grown on a large scale in the vicinity of Istanbul. In some countries the seeds are used as a substitute for coffee. The leaves and immature fruit long have been popular in the East for use in poultices to relieve pain.

Okra provides three food products: pods, leaves, and seeds. All have dietary value. Half a cup of the cooked pods, for instance, provides nearly 10 percent of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid, not to mention fair amounts of vitamins A and C. The leaves contain protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. The seeds are potentially a good source of an especially nutritious protein, rich in tryptophan and having adequate levels of the nutritionally vital sulfur-containing amino acids. Okra protein thus complements and fulfills that of cereal grains and legumes, not to mention of root crops.

It is widely believed that Okra came into the Americas with the slave ships from West Africa. Either it was introduced by the slavers or brought secretly by the slaves continue to baffle historians and researchers. Okra was quickly accepted by the native Caribbean people into their diet.


Okra, A Summer Flower And Vegetable

The Orlando Sentinel
Many vegetables are being moved out of the back yard and into the front-yard flower gardens. And why not, if they produce attractive plants and eye-catching flowers and fruits? Such is the case with okra. Even if you don’t like okra, you have to love the colorful yellow blooms. Don’t be surprised if they resemble cotton, hollyhocks or hibiscus because they are all in the same family. When the flowers fade, okra offers interesting rocket-shaped edible pods. Most are bright green in color, but some are reddish.

Okra’s role in Southern cooking


Okra, the food thought to be the most emblematic of Southern cooking is often misunderstood outside of the South.  A heat-loving, tropical annual from the hibiscus family, the pods must be picked within a few days or they will quickly lignify and become inedible.  As long as the pods are continuously picked, the plant will continue to bloom until the weather cools off, making it a particularly rewarding plant to grow.  Throughout the South, okra can be found pickled or fried.  During the Civil War, its seeds were even used as a coffee substitute when coffee was unavailable because of the Northern Blockade.

It’s Not Fair What They Say About Okra


Okra and tomatoes are a classic match in the South. They come of age at the same time. They stew together and smother together. When okra is fried, a sliced tomato stands by.

Okra figures so prominently in the legacy of Southern cooking that it is difficult for Southerners to imagine summers without it. (Every last county in Georgia grows it, said Mr. Donck, an organic grower, who sends his produce to Atlanta restaurants.) Though okra makes its way into fields above the Mason-Dixon line (and to farmers’ markets up north come August), it is a treasure Southerners have pretty much kept to themselves.


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