Okra’s Health Benefits
The seed pods are used ideally when they are about four inches long just prior to their mature growth potential. The plant itself is one of the most heat and drought tolerant plants in the world. When grown in direct sunlight and watered sufficiently it grows quickly and continues to produce fruit.
History of Okra
Okra has a history that dates back to antiquity and was recorded to have been widely cultivated along the banks of the Nile in ancient Egyptian times.
The available historical data are vague about okra and its exact origin, but Africa is the commonly thought of beginning. From Ethiopia to South America and from North Africa to the slaver countries it was carried and documented to travel far and wide along the trade routes to Northern Europe and Asia.
Today the recipes for okra are found everywhere and okra is a popular staple throughout the world. As it grows best in warmer weather with plenty of water, the US center is and has been the Southern states where it first showed up with slaves that were brought over from Africa and the Caribbean.
An interesting side note is that many of the slaves brought over from Africa sequestered okra seeds, (and probably some other plant species), in their matted hair to use when, (and if), they arrived.
Digestion and Okra
The nurition benefits of okra are numerous, but let’s start with one that helps everything else in the human body when it runs right. Today’s diets of processed foods, too much animal protein and fats have turned our natural physiologies on their collective ears. It’s becoming more evident to even the laymen out there that something is needed that we are not getting. Consequently our levels of physical discomfort, and general ill health is linked to what, when, and how much we eat.
To say that we feel the danger and urgency of the problem at the gut level is more than just use of a catch phrase. The gut, or intestinal system, is where much of the problem lies. The food is there fermenting and turning into a toxic load too heavy for our bodies to handle. During the digestive process toxin heavy bile acid exits the liver. One of the most significant benefits of okra is that the mucilage from the okra binds with this bile and cholesterol to better facilitate its elimination.
If the acids and toxins are allowed to remain in the gut too long they tend to cause inflammation and can lead to many of the intestinal problems that plague our culture today. One of these problems that is on the forefront of health and nutrition news is irritable bowel syndrome. With the regular use of okra with its lubricating effect and acid neutralizing characteristics, it protects the intestinal membrane from those inflammations that can lead to colorectal cancer.
It has a laxative quality that helps lubricate the large intestine, soothing rather than irritating the bowel and helps elimination without the toxic side effects of constipation medications. Okra is much more cost effective than many of the drugs out there and it is loaded with nutrition that isn’t available in pills or animal based food products.
Okra and Nutrition
As with most foods throughout history that have survived this long, the benefits of okra are significant enough to have carried it through for millennia to our tables today.
Okra is replete with a superior form of fiber that controls the rate of sugar absorption in the intestine and so is able to stabilize blood sugar levels. Together with other whole, unprocessed natural foods, eaten on a regular basis, they can help bring down dangerously high levels of blood sugar and cholesterol to normal ranges.
Fiber is not always thought of in terms of nutrition, but certainly is in that it feeds the bacteria that is beneficial to our digestive systems and allows them to do what they were designed to do. Okra can help with this too.
As do other green vegetables, okra provides a significant donation to the calcium that we need daily. Unlike calcium from milk products a higher percentage of the calcium from okra and all other green vegetables is absorbed and utilized while contributing no fat or acids to the system.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), Fresh, raw pods,
Nutrition value per 100 g.
(Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)
Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
Energy 1.5 % 31 Kcal
Carbohydrates 7.03 g 5.4%
Protein 2.0 g 4.0%
Total Fat 0.1 g 0.5%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0.0%
Dietary Fiber 9.0 % 3.2 g
Folates 88 mcg 22.0%
Niacin 1.000 mg 6.0%
Pantothenic acid 0.245 mg 5.0%
Pyridoxine 0.215 mg 16.5%
Riboflavin 0.060 mg 4.5%
Thiamin 0.200 mg 17.0%
Vitamin C 21.1 mg 36.0%
Vitamin A 375 IU 12.5%
Vitamin E 0.36 mg 2.5%
Vitamin K 53 mcg 44.0%
Sodium 8 mg 0.5%
Potassium 303 mg 6.0%
Calcium 81 mg 8.0%
Copper 0.094 mg 10.0%
Iron 0.80 mg 0.0%
Magnesium 57 mg 14.0%
Manganese 0.990 mg 43.0%
Phosphorus 63 mg 9.0%
Selenium 0.7 mcg 1.0%
Zinc 0.60 mg 5.5%
Carotene-ß 225 mcg —
Crypto-xanthin-ß 0 mcg —
Lutein-zeaxanthin 516 mcg —
There is a whole host of real nutrition found in okra that can do nothing but good for those of us who otherwise are lacking most of the nutrition we need to stay healthy.
Cultivation of Okra
Where do we get okra or how do we grow it? It doesn’t take much research to find the answers as okra is, as mentioned before, one of the oldest and most popular greens in the world.
Okra plants grows best in warm climates that aren’t prone to frost. In the US that means in the southern states it will grow most all year. In cash crop countries such as those who produce food crops for US consumption, (Mexico, Chile, etc.), it is made available throughout the year and will be shipped just about everywhere. If your favorite local market doesn’t carry it you may try asking for a case as it will be available through their suppliers.
If you want to plant okra for yourself, start by putting down seeds about three of four weeks after the last frost of the season. It’s very important that they have a full sun environment and good drainage. Place three or four seeds together about one half inch deep and six inches apart in rows two feet apart to allow yourself to work the plants as the pods ripen. Sprinkle water gently after the planting, but keep the plants wet after they start to grow, but not so much that puddles form.
As the plants break the surface, thin them out and space them about a foot apart as they will widen quite a bit as they mature. When the okra seed pods start to form pick them when they are three of four inches in length. If they get bigger than that they tend to get woody and lose their tender texture. At this point you need to check them every couple of days as they will have new growth popping out that often. The more you harvest the more they will be encouraged to grow more pods. You can cultivate on your own property!
From planting to maturity it should take about a month and a half if all conditions are optimal. They are fun plants to watch grow as they shoot up so fast, (relatively speaking) and the health benefits of okra are many.
There are many recipes to optimize okra for its nutritional value. There are some healthy recipes that can help in the control of the disease of diabetes and even a recipe for okra coffee!