Abelmoschus Esculentus is the scientific name given to the common okra plant also commonly known as ladies fingers and belongs to the Malvaceae (Mallow) family. It is a very popular vegetable in the southern states of America where it is known as Gumbo.
It is an annual and when fully grown can reach between three and eight feet tall. It produces a flower similar to the hibiscus plant except that its flowers are either white or pale yellow with a burgundy coloured heart. There are many named varieties with at lease twenty five different varieties grown in America. It has a colour range from bright green to pale lime; however it can also be red or pink.
It is a cultivated crop but it can be easily grown in a kitchen garden under the right conditions. Its origins are in West Africa, believe to have been brought to America during the slave trade where it has long been a firm favourite in certain parts. It is successfully grown in many part of the world which has either a tropical or sub-tropical climate and is in fact a very popular plant in many third world countries including India, the middle East, the West Indies and of course Africa.
It thrives in a rich humus soil with good drainage, a sunny wind-free position and a good water supply. It takes between forty five and sixty days for the plant to yield its first crop. It pods can grow between three and five inches long and if left on the tree too long it becomes woody, therefore it should be picked every two to three days which also aids a prolonged production period. Once picked it should be eaten as soon as possible and not stored in the refrigerator.
The fruit, roots, leaves and the seeds are all edible. The seeds can be dried and grounded into a powder which can be used to thicken soups, stews and it is a delicious addition to stir-fries and the grounded seeds can also be used as a coffee substitute. It can be pickled also deep fried in batter which is very popular recipie in the Southern states of America. It is a low calorie food which fits well into any weight loss programme and has a high vitamin A & C content and a notable amount of calcium, protein and iron.
In certain parts of the world, when the okra plant is no longer producing vegetables, its leaves are stripped and the stem is steamed to remove the outer skin, which leaves a fibrous substance that is then boiled for a further two hours, the residue of which is used to make paper and a jute (a fiber used to make bags, mats and cordage in places like India) substitute.
The root of the okra is rich in Mucilage which has a demulcent action able to soothe, lubricate and soften irritated tissues, especially the tissues of the mucus membranes. In some parts of the world an infusion of the root is used to treat syphilis, Gonorrhoea, Urinae and dysuria. The juice from the root is used to treat cuts, open wounds and boils, whilst the leaves are used as a poultice for drawing out inflammation and puss from infected wounds.
Many Americans not from the southern staes regard Abelmoschus Esculentus as their least favourite vegetable, this is perhaps because when cut, it exudes a slimy mucous-like substance. However, in many parts of the world it is held in high esteem, eaten on a regular basis and regarded as an important part of their diet. In Europe it has long been sold in the small ethnic grocery stores mainly to a third world immigrant population. However, more and more it can be seen on the shelves of many large supermarkets due to its increasing popularity.