The Little-Known Okra: History and Health Benefits

Food as Medicine

okraFor many people in the U.S., the wonders of okra are still unknown. If you live in the south, you’ve likely had them fried or in some soup or gumbo, but much of the land is just waking up to this powerhouse vegetable. Okra has a long history and a wealth of health benefits. Best of all—it’s super easy to grow.

Brief History of Okra

It’s believed that okra originated in the Abyssinia region of Africa, the area we now know as Ethiopia. Because this mountainous region was so isolated for centuries, little is known about the cultivation and uses there. Eventually, however, okra made its way throughout North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean regions, before eventually moving on to the rest of the world.

Okra was said to be introduced to the U.S. in the late 1700s by French colonists in Louisiana. That wasn’t its debut in the Western Hemisphere, however, as it reached Brazil via Africa in at least the 1600s.

Some Okra Health Benefits and Growing Tips

Okra contains several healthy components including vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants like B1 and B2, quercetin, rutin, catechin, and epiatechin. It’s also known for high vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate content. Studies have indicated the vitamin C content of okra could help with asthma and even skin conditions.

But many of the health benefits of okra come from it’s superior fiber content. As a fiber source, it helps to regulate digestion and maintain blood sugar levels. The inclusion of pectin also makes it a great choice for helping to reduce cholesterol. Check out this article for a real close look into the health benefits of okra.

Okra is easy to grow during summer months and can do well in most continental climates. You can simply start it from seed. As it grows, it produces pretty flowers from which the fruit develops.

As your okra is producing, you’ll want to harvest it often. One common mistake is letting the pods get too large, at which point they get dry and tough. So, harvest them small and young.

While you can fry okra, that’s probably not the healthiest option. In soups and gumbo it’s somewhat slimy texture gives the broth a great feel and flavor. But, you can also eat okra raw. Without being cooked, the slime is kept at a minimum. Add it to a salad or simply eat it plain.

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University of Illinois