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Abelmoschus esculentus – Okra – Ajaytao


Abelmoschus esculentus - Okra - Ajaytao

Abelmoschus esculentus – Okra – Ajaytao

Common name: Ladies Finger, Okra

Vernacular names: Common okra, okra, okro, lady’s finger (En), Gombo commun, gombo, gumbo (Fr), Quiabeiro (Po), Mbamia, mbinda (Sw), China: qiu kui, Middle East (in Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, and Turkish), it is called bamia or bamyeh, Bosnia and Herzegovina: bamija, Dominican Republic: molondron, Sinhalese : Bandakka, Spanish : Gombo, Ají turco, Thai : Krachiap, Ton krachiap, Polish : Czyli okra, Ketmia jadalna, Romanian: Bame.

Bhindi भिन्डी (Hindi), Belendri (Manipuri), Vendaikkaay (Tamil), Sanskrit : Bhenda, Darvika, Gandhamula, Pitali, Tindisa, Tindisha.

Botanical name: Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench

Family: Malvaceae (mallow Family)
Genus: Abelmoschus
Species: A. esculentus

Synonyms: Hibiscus esculentus L. (1753).

A member of the hibiscus family, okra is an annual that gets 3-8′ tall (depending on the cultivar) and bears yellow flowers that give rise to the familiar okra pods so valued in Cajun gumbos. It is valued for its edible green seed pods The plant is a rather coarse annual with large lobed, slightly spiny leaves and a thick, semiwoody stem with few branches and bears yellow flowers that give rise to the familiar okra pods so common in India as a fried vegetable.

The genus Abelmoschus originated in South-East Asia. Abelmoschus esculentus, however, is a cultigen of uncertain origin. It is widespread in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions, but is particularly popular in West Africa, India, the Philippines, Thailand and Brazil. Abelmoschus esculentus has been reported from the whole of tropical Africa, whereas West African okra (Abelmoschus caillei (A.Chev.) Stevels) is restricted to the humid and perhumid climates of Africa.

Okra’s attractive blossoms are ivory or yellow in color, funnel-shaped and resemble hibiscus flowers. The throat of the flower is maroon. The plant is a rather coarse annual with large lobed, slightly spiny leaves and a thick, semi woody stem with few branches. The flowers are showy: hibiscus-like with pale yellow or cream colored petals and purplish hearts.

Okra blooms and produces over an extended season, usually until first frost. Cornucopia II lists 25 varieties of okra available from American seedsmen. They come in green, pale lime, purple and red pod colors. Some are adapted especially for northern climates, even performing well in southern Canada. Some are dwarf varieties, suited for small gardens; some are spineless and some are velvety until cooked. The standard American okra is ‘Clemson Spineless”, accounting for some 90% of commercial production, and serving the home gardener well for many decades.

Abelmoschus esculentus - Okra - Ajaytao

Abelmoschus esculentus – Okra – Ajaytao

Stout, annual, erect herb up to 4 m tall, more or less strongly branched; stem terete, with scattered, stiff hairs, glabrescent, often red-blotched; branches erect to curved downwards. Leaves arranged spirally, simple, variable in shape and size; stipules filiform, up to 2 cm long, often split to the base, covered with stiff hairs; petiole up to 50 cm long, often red-tinged, with a line of soft, simple hairs on the upper side, otherwise with scattered, stiff hairs and glabrescent; blade transversally elliptical to orbicular in outline, up to 50 cm broad, length of midrib up to 35 cm, mostly 3-, 5- or 7-palmatilobed to palmatipartite, cordate at base, 5–9-veined, segments triangular, ovate, elliptical, obovate, oblong, spatulate or lanceolate, acuminate, serrate to crenate, sometimes entire or angular, veins on both sides with scattered, stiff hairs, glabrescent. Flowers axillary, solitary or racemose by reduction or abortion of the upper leaves; pedicel up to 3 cm long in flower, up to 7 cm in fruit, with scattered, stiff hairs, glabrescent; epicalyx segments 7–15, free, linear to lanceolate, 5–25 mm × 0.5–3 mm, acute to acuminate, caducous at flowering or soon after, covered with stiff hairs; calyx spathaceous, 2–6 cm long, 5-toothed apically, usually splitting on one side at the expansion of the corolla, adnate to and caducous with the corolla and staminal column, strigose to sericeous; petals 5, free, obovate to orbicular, 3–7 cm long, base fleshy, apex obtuse to retuse, glabrous, yellow, often turning pink after anthesis, with a dark purple centre; stamens united into a staminal column up to 2.5 cm long, white, glabrous; ovary superior, tomentose, often with some stiff hairs on the costae as well, 5–10 style arms 3–5 mm long, stigmas dark purple, with simple hairs. Fruit an erect, cylindrical to pyramidal capsule 5–25 cm × 1–5 cm, acuminate, terete to 5–10-angled, concave between the costae, gradually losing its original indumentum, when young varying in colour from purple-red and reddish-green to dark green, and from pale green to yellow, completely or partially loculicidal or not opening at all, up to 100-seeded. Seeds globose to ovoid, 3–6 mm in diameter, with minute warts in concentric rows, rarely with long red hairs on the seed coat. Seedling with epigeal germination.

Abelmoschus esculentus (usually 2n = 130) is probably an amphidiploid (allotetraploid), derived from Abelmoschus tuberculatus Pal & H.B.Singh (2n = 58), a wild species from India, and a species with 2n = 72 chromosomes (possibly Abelmoschus ficulneus (L.) Wight & Arn. ex Wight).

Another edible okra species, Abelmoschus caillei (A.Chev.) Stevels, occurs in the humid parts of West and Central Africa. There are strong indications that also Abelmoschus caillei is an amphidiploid with Abelmoschus esculentus being one of the parental species.

There are no apparent differences in use between the common and West African okra, which is why they are often lumped together. Morphologically Abelmoschus caillei differs in several respects from Abelmoschus esculentus, but the epicalyx offers the best discriminating characteristic: the width of the epicalyx segments is 0.5–3 mm in Abelmoschus esculentus and 4–13 mm in Abelmoschus caillei. The two okra species can be quite reliably (but not with absolute certainty) recognized on the basis of fruit form. Fruits of Abelmoschus esculentus are cylindrical to pyramidal, whereas fruits of Abelmoschus caillei are ovoid. Literature references on common okra have to be interpreted with care because they may include information related to Abelmoschus caillei.


Light: Full sun for best production.

Moisture: Keep fast growing okra well watered.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 – 11. Okra is a hot weather annual. Don’t even think of planting your okra seeds until summer has arrived and the nights stay above 55 F. Best growth occurs when soil temperatures are above 65 F. From seedling to first harvest takes only about 60 days, however. If your warm weather growing season is shorter than that, start the plants indoors, setting out after all danger of frost has passed, and maybe even use a cold frame on the cooler nights.

Propagation: You can speed up germination if you soak okra seeds in water for 24 hours before planting. Sow seeds about a half inch deep in one long row or in rows 3′ apart, and thin to 12 or 18″ between plants.

There are many cultivars of common okra. Some of the better known are ‘Clemson Spineless’, ‘Indiana’, ‘Emerald’ (United States) and ‘Pusa Sawani’ (India), which have been in use for about 30 years.

Abelmoschus esculentus - Okra - Ajaytao

Abelmoschus esculentus – Okra – Ajaytao



Okra is a popular health food due to its high fiber, vitamin C, and folate content. Okra is also known for being high in antioxidants. Okra is also a good source of calcium and potassium.

It is popular in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, where chopped pieces are stir-fried with spices, pickled, salted or added to gravy-based preparations such as bhindi ghosht and sambar. Okra is cut into small circular pieces about 1/4 inch thick and stick fried in oil with salt and hot pepper powder to make delicious curry.

In Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Albania, Bosnia, Greece, Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen, and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean, including Palestine, Cyprus and Israel, okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat.

In Malaysia okra is commonly a part of yong tau foo cuisine, typically stuffed with processed fish paste (surimi) and boiled with a selection of vegetables and tofu, and served in a soup with noodles.

In Malawi it is preferred cooked and stirred with sodium bicarbonate to make it more slimy. It is then commonly eaten with nsima (pap) made from raw maize flour or maize husks flour.

In the Philippines, okra can be found among traditional dishes like pinakbet, dinengdeng, and sinigang. Because of its mild taste and ubiquity, okra can also be cooked adobo-style, or served steamed or boiled in a salad with tomatoes, onion and bagoong.

It became a popular vegetable in Japanese cuisine toward the end of the 19th century, served with soy sauce and katsuobushi, or as tempura.

In the Caribbean islands, okra is eaten in soup. In Curaçao the soup is known as jambo which primarily is made out of the okra’s mucilage. It is often prepared with fish and funchi, a dish made out of cornmeal and boiling water. In Haiti, it is cooked with rice and maize, and also used as a sauce for meat. In Cuba, it is called quimbombó, along with a stew using okra as its primary ingredient. In Dominican Republic is eaten as if in salad and also cooked with rice.

Okra is low in calories and high in vitamins A and C and in calcium, iron and protein. Properly prepared, it is delicious and not at all mucilaginous or “slimy.” Americans rank okra as one of their least favorite vegetables. Apparently they haven’t had whole okra sautéed in olive oil, or pickled okra, or a big pot of tomatoes, onions and okra stew, not to mention a New Orleans seafood gumbo!

Young immature fruits are an important vegetable, consumed cooked or fried. In West Africa they are usually boiled in water to make slimy soups and sauces. The fruits can be conserved by drying, whole or sliced, or by pickling. Before selling, the dried product is usually ground to powder. Young leaves are commonly used as spinach. The leaves are sometimes used as cattle feed.

Other Uses

Okra mucilage is suitable for medicinal and industrial applications. It has been used as a plasma replacement or blood volume expander. Leaves are sometimes used as a basis for poultices, as an emollient, sudorific or antiscorbutic and to treat dysuria. Okra mucilage has been added as size to glaze paper and is used in confectionery. The bark fibre has been locally used for fishlines and game traps. It is suitable for spinnning into rope and for paper and cardboard manufacture. Roasted okra seeds are used in some areas as a substitute for coffee.

A fibre obtained from the stems is used as a substitute for jute. It is also used in making paper and textiles. The fibres are about 2.4mm long. When used for paper the stems are harvested in late summer or autumn after the edible seedpods have been harvested, the leaves are removed and the stems are steamed until the fibres can be stripped off. The fibres are cooked for 2 hours with lye and then put in a ball mill for 3 hours. The paper is cream coloured. A decoction of the root or of the seeds is used as a size for paper.

Abelmoschus esculentus - Okra - Ajaytao

Abelmoschus esculentus – Okra – Ajaytao

Medicinal Uses

Plants for a future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Antispasmodic; Demulcent; Diaphoretic; Diuretic; Emollient; Stimulant; Vulnerary.

Antioxidant – In a study looking at the diet of South Asian migrants in Bradford, U.K., the antioxidant properties identified in Abelmoschus esculentus were found to be strong candidates in the treatment of disorders of the central nervous system in preference to synthetic antioxidants which exhibit toxicity. In cases of dysentery, constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowels syndrome, and Crohn’s disease.

Anti-inflammatory – In Ayurvedic medicine, the anti-inflammatory properties in the mucilage is effective in the treatment of gastro-intestinal disorders, especially pertaining to the intestinal wall.

Antispasmodic – This quality in the seeds is beneficial to the gastro-intestinal tract

Cordial – This quality in the seeds acts as a tonic and a stimulant to the heart, which is supported by linoleic acid, an important polyunsaturated fatty acids that plays a role in the prevention heart vascular diseases.

Demulcent – This quality of the roots is very active due to the mucilage, which can be used to replace plasma. It is a quality that is also present in the leaves, the skin, and especially in the young pods.

Diuretic – The young pods act as a diuretic and emollient. Releases accumulation of water that leads to swelling/water retention, especially a decoction of the roots

Sudorific – An infusion of the roasted seeds has sudorific properties increasing perspiration to expel toxins and excess water.

Emollient: Soothes and softens the skin, and all mucous membranes.

Decoction of roots and leaves as a tea or for washing.
Decoction of young fruit useful for catarrh, urinary problems.
Syrup from mucilaginous fruit used for sore throat.
Poultice of roots and leaves for wound healing.
Young pods for fevers, difficult urination and diarrhea.
Decoction of roots for headaches, varicose veins, arthritis, fevers.
Decoctions of leaves for abdominal pain.
Leaves also useful as emollient poultice.
Seeds used a coffee substitute. Paste of seeds, mixed with milk, used for pruritic skin lesions.

Leaves and immature fruit have long been used in the East in poultices and applied to relieve pain, moisturise skin, induce sweating, prevent scurvy and treat urinary disorders. In Congo-Brazzaville, a leaf decoction is given for heart pains and to promote delivery during childbirth. Okra root has been used to treat syphilis in Malaya.

The roots are very rich in mucilage, having a strongly demulcent action. They are said by some to be better than marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis). Okra mucilage has been used as a plasma replacement and blood volume expander. To obtain the mucilage, slices of immature pods are placed in water, which is then boiled. The mucilage is an acidic polysaccharide composed of galacturonic acid, rhamnose and glucose and tends to break down when overheated.


The hairs on the seed pods can be an irritant to some people and gloves should be worn when harvesting. These hairs can be easily removed by washing.

Many people get an itchy (but short-lived) reaction from the little spines on the leaves and stems of okra, and should therefore be careful when working in the okra patch. However, even highly sensitive individuals do not get the reaction from eating okra.

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