Okra is valued for its edible green fruits, said to be shaped like lady’s fingers – one of its common names in British English.
Scientific name: Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench
Common name: okra, lady’s fingers, gumbo, okro (English); gombo, gumbo (French); bandakai, bindi (India); Kachang bendi (Malay); quimgombó (Spanish).
Conservation status: Widespread in cultivation.
Key Uses: Food, fiber, traditional medicine.
Known hazards: Irritating hairs are sometimes present on leaves and stems, and traces of alkaloid have been reported in leaves.
About this species
Okra is a cultigen (a plant that has been altered by humans through a process of selective breeding). The exact origin of okra is unknown, but it is thought to have come from Africa, where it has been grown as a crop for centuries. Evidence suggests it was grown in Egypt as long ago as 2,000 BC. Today it is widely cultivated for its edible green fruits, which are harvested when immature (after 3–5 days of development), and are infamous for their slimy mucilage.
Abelmoschus esculentus is also known by the synonym Hibiscus esculentus and the common name lady’s fingers, thought to be a fanciful reference to the slender, finger-shaped fruits of some cultivars.
The Malvaceae plant family, of which okra is a member, contains many economically important plants. These include cotton (Gossypium hirsutum), cocoa (Theobroma cacao), ornamental Hibiscus species, the genus Ceiba (from which kapok fibre is derived), durian fruit (Durio zibethinus) and balsawood (Ochroma pyramidale).
Hibiscus esculentus L., Abelmoschus bammia Webb, Abelmoschus longifolius (Willd.) Kostel. (Full list available on The Plant List)
7 surprising benefits of this super food
Lady’s finger is a non-leafy, green, fruit vegetable that is widely consumed in India and abroad. Popularly called bhindi in Indian households, this vegetable is tender, mucilaginous and dense in nutritional content. Whether you eat them raw or you cook them as you like, you’ll surely benefit in more than one ways. Here are some surprising benefits of this green wonder.
- Helps control diabetes: Okra is packed with dietary fiber that helps stabilization of blood sugar levels by regulation of the rate of absorption of sugar from the digestive tract. The anti-diabetic property of okra is also attributed to its ability of inhibition of enzymes metabolizing carbohydrates, enhancement of production of insulin, regeneration of beta cell of the pancreas and increased secretion of insulin.
- It prevents heart disease: People are often affected with heart disease due to high levels of cholesterol in their blood. Pectin, a soluble fiber present in lady’s finger helps lower this cholesterol and thus is helpful in preventing heart disease. Okra is also fairly rich in antioxidant compounds like polyphenols. These compounds, especially quercetin, helps prevent oxidation of cholesterol and blocking of arteries, preventing heart disease development .
- It helps you lose weight: People who aspire to lose weight can eat lady’s finger to facilitate weight loss. The vegetable is extremely low in calories, with a 100g serving containing just 33 calories. Here are some other foods that can help you lose weight.
- It improves your immunity: Lady’s finger is rich in vitamin C with a 100g serving meeting approximately 38% of your daily requirement of the nutrient. Vitamin C is a vital nutrient that helps improves your immunity and protects you from several diseases and infections. Alternatively, you could also eat orange and amla to boost your vitamin C intake as both of them are extremely rich sources of the nutrient.
- It improves your mental function: Folate or Vitamin B9 is another critical nutrient present in lady’s finger. This nutrient is required by your brain to function properly as it aids in the production of several important compounds.
- It is good for pregnant women: Women who are pregnant will benefit from the consumption of lady’s finger as it contains Vitamin B9 or folic acid which can help prevent neurological birth defects in their newborn. Here are 5 recipes that pregnant women.
- It prevents cancer: According to a research published in Nutrition Journal, lady’s finger has a higher concentration of antioxidants than most vegetables. These antioxidants prevent damage to your cells from free radicals, and inhibit the growth of cancer cells in your body. Additionally, it contains some amount of insoluble fibre which promotes a healthy digestive tract and lowers your risk of colorectal cancer. Pectin present in the vegetable has been shown to prevent proliferation of melanoma cells in vitro .
Here is a healthy lady’s finger recipe that you can try:
Okra, Nutrients – Health Benefits
|Okra Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy 30 kcal 150 kJ|
|Dietary fiber||3.2 g|
|Folate (Vit. B9) 87.8g||22%|
|Vitamin C 21 mg||35%|
|Calcium 75 mg||8%|
|Magnesium 57 mg||15%|
|Vitamin A (660 IU) Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.|
Okra Availability, preparation and Use
Okra is available in most grocery and vegetable stores. Buy okra fruits that are fresh, young, tender and firm. You will know it is fresh if it can easily be snapped in two. The best okra variety is the green color.
If you have to store okra for later preparation, do not wash as it will become slimy, put in a paper bag and refrigerate – do not freeze. Okra is best consumed within 3 days.
To maintain the best nutritional value of okra, it is suggested not to overcook it.
Okra: Folkloric Health Benefits
- Decoction of young okra fruit is used to treat inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially of the respiratory tract, accompanied by excessive secretions.
- Okra juice is used to treat sore throat associated with coughing
- Decoction of okra leaves, fruits and leaves are used to treat urinary problems, such as painful urination and other genitourinary problems including gonorrhea and syphilis.
- Okra leaves and roots used as poultice for wounds
- Okra juice used to treat diarrhea with fever and related abdominal pains
- Okra juice used to treat skin itchiness and as skin moisturizer.
- Okra leaves used for inflammation
- Okra fruits are eaten to treat involuntary discharge of semen
- Roasted okra seeds are used to promote sweating
- Okra seeds are used to treat and prevent muscle spasms
- Decoction of okra is used to treat fever, headache and arthritis.
- Okra is rich in fiber that absorbs water and improves the bulk of stool. Very effective against diarrhea and constipation.
- Okra’s mucilage binds with cholesterol and bile acids and expelled through stool from the body.
- Okra helps in lowering the blood sugar level by blocking the absorption of sugar in the intestinal tract.
- Okra’s mucilage acts as a lubricant and a laxative for the intestinal tract facilitating the easy passage of waste.
- Okra is believed to smoothen the skin and prevent the eruption of pimples and acne.
Okra Medicinal and Health Benefits
Anti diabetic Health Benefit of Okra
In a study published in “Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences 2011” entitled “Anti diabetic and antihyperlipidemic potential of Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench. In streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats”, suggests that extracts from okra could be developed as a prospective phytomedicinal plant against diabetes mellitus. The results have shown that by administration of okra extracts to diabetic rats, there was a significant reduction in blood glucose level and the lipid profile level also have normalized.
Antibacterial Activity of Okra
In a study entitled “Glycosylated compounds from okra inhibit adhesion of Helicobacter pylori to human gastric mucosa”, the crude polysaccharide isolated from the fresh juice by ethanolic precipitation showed strong inhibitory effects. Okra fresh juice preparation inhibited the bacterial adhesion almost completely in the gastric mucosa. The anti adhesive qualities of okra were assumed to be due to a combination of glycoproteins and highly acidic sugar compounds making up a complex three-dimensional structure that is fully developed only in the fresh juice of the okra fruit.
Antioxidant Health Benefit of Okra
In a study entitled “Antioxidant and hepatoprotective effect of the roots of Hibiscus esculentus Linn”.of the Department of Pharmacognosy, School of Pharmacy, Masterskill University College of Health Sciences, Selangor, Malaysia, showed that (H.esculentus) okra root ethanol extract posses in vitro free radical scavenging activity which was well comparable with Silymarin. Okra contains flavanoids that may have anti-oxidant and hepatoprotective activities. The present study further suggests that phenolic compounds of the roots H esculentus provide a good source of antioxidants that could offer potential protective effects against lipid oxidation and which could be exploited to make a hepato protective formulation
Mucilage of Okra as potential pharmaceutical adjutant.
A study published in “International Journal of PharmTech Research 2009” Entitled “Evaluation of Abelmoschus Esculentus Mucilage as Suspending Agent in Paracetamol Suspension” suggests that the extracted mucilage of Abelmoschus esculentus 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. In view of these properties, mucilage of Abelmoschus esculentus can be employed as stabilizer and thickener of choice when high viscosity’s desired especially in cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food industries.
Okra use cautions and warnings
Okra is a highly nutritious vegetable that is non toxic and safe for consumption even for young children and pregnant women.
However, In a study entitled “Evaluation of The Deleterious Effects of Aqueous Fruit Extract of Abelmoschus Esculentus (Okro Fruit) on Some Male Reproductive Parameters in Sprague Dawley Rats” published in “Journal of Phytology 2009” suggests that the methanol fruit extract of okra significantly reduced the mean weight of testes; this is supported by the histological studies which showed testicular atrophy. There was significant reduction in the weight of the prostate gland. Although not conclusive but it may affect male fertility.