Okra is a vegetable used often in southern cuisine, though its origins trace back to Africa, specifically Ethiopia around the 12th century. Slowly making its way through Egypt, north Africa, then the Mediterranean, it ended up in southern America just after the 17th century. It is said to have been eaten by Cleopatra of Egypt and Yang Guifei of China, 2 very powerful women in history.
Known for its unique texture, the okra plant is closely related to the cotton plant as well as hibiscus and hollyhock, all members of the Mallow family. This gooey nightshade is used to thicken soups such as gumbo. Mature okra is used to make rope and paper. The seeds of the okra plant were roasted and used as a substitute for coffee during the Civil War. In Turkey, the leaves are used to soothe and reduce inflammation. It is not uncommon to hear negative remarks about okra due to its texture, but that’s mostly because people do not know how to prepare it.
Worldwide, okra is known by various monikers. It is popular all over the world, but not so much in European nations. Other names for okra are lady’s fingers, bhindi (Hindi), quibombo (Spanish), gombo (French), and bamies (Arabic).
Nutritionally, okra is full of goodness. It is low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin B6, folic acid, and antioxidants. Okra is also a good source of vitamins A and C, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron. Medicinally, it is known to help stabilize blood sugar, support colon health, improve skin, support the immune and respiratory systems, lower cholesterol, and improve heart and eye health. Its unique combination of nutrients has also been shown to help prevent neural tube defects in growing fetuses, making it a wonderful addition to a pregnancy diet plan!