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Everything You Need To Know About Okra 

Everything You Need To Know About Okra

Okra is a delicious and healthy vegetable. Apart from its unique texture and mild flavor, it’s packed with nutritional goodness and culinary versatility. 

In this article, we’ll explore everything you should know about this plant and how to grow and use it in your kitchen. So, read on, and let’s see the okra plant and discover its hidden benefits.

What is okra?

What is okra
Image: Wikipedia

Okra is the edible slender green seed pod of the Abelmoschus esculentus plant filled with tiny white seeds. It is a warm-season vegetable commonly used as a natural thickener in soups and stews due to its high mucilage content. 

Scientific nameAbelmoschus esculentus
Height3-6 feet
Plant TypeFruit-bearing vegetable, Warm-season annual
OriginTropical Africa
Growing SeasonWarm weather, long summers
Soil RequirementsWell-drained, fertile soil
Sun ExposureFull sun
Watering NeedsRegular watering
Flower colorYellow or white
Fruit colorGreen or red
HarvestingWhen pods are 2-3 inches long
Culinary UsesGumbo, stews, soups, stir-fries, pickles
Nutritional ValueRich in vitamins A, C, and K, fiber, and antioxidants

Okra is a long, slender pod with a ridged surface and a fuzzy texture. It measures between 3 to 10 inches long, and its color ranges from green to red to purple. 

The okra pods are tapered at both ends, with five visible ridges running along their length. You’ll see several tiny, edible, white seeds inside the pod.

The okra vegetables are popularly called “gumbo” or “lady’s fingers.” This plant grows best in hot, humid climates, especially in India, the leading okra producer in the world. 

Although it’s a vegetable in the kitchen, botanically, okra is the plant’s fruit or seed-bearing part. It has a slimy texture, which contains mucilage that acts as a thickener in stews or gumbos. 

It has a peach-like exterior and a mild, grassy taste when consumed. Many find its unique texture perfect for roasting or frying with dry heat, minimizing its sliminess. 

Where did okra come from?

Where did okra come from
Image: Wikipedia

Okra came from the Nile in Ethiopia around the 12th century. It was then cultivated in Egypt and spread to North Africa and the Middle East.

During the 18th century, okra was introduced to parts of North America and by 1748, it was being harvested as far as Philadelphia. 

Today, okra is enjoyed in dishes in most parts of Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Turkey, India, South America and Greece.

Why is okra slimy?

Why is okra slimy
Image: Britannica

Okra is slimy due to a carbohydrate called mucilage, a gel-like substance in the okra pod’s cell walls. When okra is cut, a thick, sticky gummy juice leaks out. 

This juice makes an excellent thickener for stews and soups. Still, it is also beneficial for health because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and ability to lower cholesterol levels. 

If you’re not a fan of the slimy texture of this plant, you can cook the okra quickly over high heat to break down the mucilage or blanch the okra briefly in boiling water.

Finally, you can add some acid to the dish, such as lemon juice or vinegar, to neutralize the mucilage and prevent it from becoming slimy.

What are the health benefits of okra?

Okra provides essential nutrients, prevents cell damage, lowers the risk of heart disease, and lowers blood sugar. This vegetable also prevents cancer and helps keep pregnant women healthy. 

Read on to learn more about the health benefits of this highly nutritious vegetable.

1. Okra provides essential nutrients. 

Okra provides essential nutrients
Image: Healthline

One cup or 100 grams of okra contains the following nutrients:

NutrientAmountDaily Value Percentage
Calories33 kcalN/A
Carbohydrates7 gN/A
Protein2 gN/A
Fat0 gN/A
Fiber3 g12%
Magnesium31 mg14%
Folate60 mcg15%
Vitamin A36 mcg14%
Vitamin C23 mg26%
Vitamin K31 mcg26%
Vitamin B60.2 mg14%

Okra is an excellent source of vitamins. For instance, vitamin C helps improve your overall immune function, while vitamin K1 is known for its role in blood clotting.

Okra is also low in calories and carbohydrates but is filled with protein and fiber, which is beneficial for those trying to manage their weight, blood sugar, bone structure, and muscle mass. 

2. Okra prevents cell damage through antioxidants.

Okra prevents cell damage through antioxidants
Image: Cleveland Clinic

Okra contains antioxidants, which reduce the risk of serious diseases and prevent inflammation. These antioxidants are compounds that fend off damage from harmful molecules called free radicals.

The primary antioxidants in okra are polyphenols, flavonoids isoquercetin, and vitamins A and C. Studies showed that eating food high in polyphenols improves heart health by lowering the risk of blood clots and oxidative damage.

Polyphenols also benefit brain health because they can enter your brain, protect it against inflammation, and improve cognition, learning, and memory.

3. Okra lowers the risk of heart disease.

Okra lowers the risk of heart disease
Image: Health Fitness Revolution

Okra has the unique ability to bind to cholesterol in the gut and lower blood cholesterol levels. More specifically, its mucilage binds to cholesterol during digestion, causing it to be excreted with stools.

It’s also rich in polyphenols, fights harmful inflammation and protects the heart.

A study showed that those who ate a polyphenol-rich diet had lower inflammatory markers associated with heart disease.

4. Okra helps prevent cancer.

Okra helps prevent cancer
Image: Healthline

Okra contains lectin, which inhibits the growth of human cancer cells. Studies showed that lectin in okra may prevent breast cancer cell growth by up to 63%, while another demonstrated that okra extract can cause cancer cell death.

5. Okra lowers blood sugar.

Okra lowers blood sugar
Image: Plants of the World Online

Healthy blood sugar levels are vital for everyone’s overall health, and eating okra can make that happen. Research suggests that okra consumption has decreased digestive tract sugar absorption, leading to a more stable blood sugar response.

7. Okra helps keep pregnant women healthy.

Okra helps keep pregnant women healthy
Image: Useful Tropical Plants

Okra is rich in folate, an essential nutrient for pregnant women. One cup of okra provides 15% of a pregnant woman’s daily needs for this nutrient.

It’s recommended that all women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folate daily. Folate helps lower the risk of a neural tube defect affecting a developing fetus’s brain and spine.

Growing Stages of an Okra Plant

Growing Stages of an Okra Plant
Image: Creative Market

At a glance, here’s a table of the growing stages of an okra plant:

SeedsGreen or dark green, circular, small, smooth, dry and mature for planting
GerminationHoles must be 1 inch deep, and the seeds will begin producing roots and small leaves after three to seven days.
SeedlingsSmall, fragile plants with soft stems. Water regularly and protect from predators. Fertilizer can be added at this time.
TransplantingHard, green leaves and stronger stems.
FloweringProduces yellow flowers around 12 to 16 weeks.
Okra-bearingFlowers transform into young pods. Horizontal with pointed tips, starting as green, then changing color to 4 to 8 inches long as they mature.
HarvestPods must be firm, and the color must be yellow-green to dark green. Harvest before they turn brown and hard.
Seed savingBrown pods cannot be eaten but can be harvested for planting seeds next season.

Okra plants have eight separate growing stages. First, the seeds must be green or dark green, circular, small, smooth, dry and mature for planting. 

The second stage is where it germinates after you plant them. The holes must be 1 inch deep, and the seeds will begin producing roots and small leaves after three to seven days.

The third stage is when the okra turns into small, fragile plants with soft stems, called seedlings. They must be watered regularly and safe from predators at this time; this is also the time when fertilizer can be added. 

Once strong enough, the plant can be transplanted into the fourth stage: the older okra with hard, green leaves and stronger stems. Meanwhile, during the flowering stage, which happens around 12 to 16 weeks, the okra plant produces yellow flowers.

Gardener’s Path
Image: Gardener’s Path

In the sixth okra-bearing stage, the flowers transform into young pods. They are horizontal with pointed tips, starting as green, then changing color to 4 to 8 inches long as they mature. 

Once they are hardened and brighter, there comes harvest time when the pods must be firm, and the color must be yellow-green to dark green. The bright green okra pods can be eaten before they turn brown and hard. 

It’s best to wait four days for the flowers to bear ripe okra pods. The brown ones cannot be eaten because they taste bad, but they can still be harvested for planting seeds next season. 

How tall does okra grow?

How tall does okra grow
Image: Pinterest

Okra plants can grow from 3 to 7 feet (0.9 to 2.1 meters) tall and 1 to 5 feet (0.3 to 1.5 meters) wide. Its pods can produce about 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimeters long) with a diameter of 1 inch (2.5 centimeters). 

In terms of diameter and length, they can grow up to 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) and 2 to 6 inches (5 to 15 centimeters), respectively. Other okra pods, like the Go Big Okra, can grow up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) length-wise. 

How long does it take for okra to grow?

How long does it take for okra to grow
Image: Gardening Know How

After transplanting, okra takes 49 to 65 days to grow. Ideally, the seeds should be planted five weeks before transplanting. 

One can harvest the mature okra pods after 85 to 100 days. However, note that okra seeds germinate in 1 to 2 weeks, assuming that temperature and soil conditions are ideal. 

How much okra do you get from one plant?

How much okra do you get from one plant
Image: Garden Season

On average, you can get 100-150 okra pods from a single plant. Which is equivalent to about 5-7 pounds of okra, depending on the level of care the plant receives. 

If you stay on top of the harvest every few days, the plant will keep producing for some time. Harvest your okra pods when they are 2-3 inches long because they will become tough and woody if you wait too long.

How do you know when to harvest okra?

How do you know when to harvest okra
Image: Batang Tabon

Okras can be harvested when the pods are already 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 centimeters) long. Otherwise, the pods will get stringy if you wait too long. 

One way to tell if they’re ready is to cut the stem. If the stem is hard to cut, the pod is still too hard to eat. 

Why are my okra so small?

Why are my okra so small
Image: Food Gardening

Okra plants grow small because of lack of water and sunlight, especially when they are grown under shade or in warm climates.

If the sunlight and water levels are adequate, ensure that the okra plants aren’t given too much nitrogen because this will lead to excessive growth of leaves at the expense of the okra pods.

Are okra plants hard to grow?

Are okra plants hard to grow
Image: Cal Gardening

Okra plants are easy to grow, especially in an area with warm, sunny summers. They require eight or more hours of sunlight and well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. 

You can plant okra seeds directly in the ground after the last frost or start your plants indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. Note that okra seeds are relatively large, so plant them about one inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart.

Okra plants also need consistent moisture, so water them deeply at least once a week and increase watering when it’s hot and dry. You can also add mulching around your plants, which can help conserve soil moisture and suppress weed growth.

Tips on How to Grow Healthy Okra Plants

If you’re ready to grow okra in your home, learn the best conditions to develop a healthy okra plant.

1. Grow okra plants in warm temperatures.

Grow okra plants in warm temperatures
Image: Freepik

Okra plants are warm-weather crops.  The ideal temperature for okra seed germination ranges from 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius).

If the soil used for its planting is colder than this, this will result in low to zero germination rates. This is nature’s way of protecting them from sprouting at a time when there is no guarantee that they will survive. 

On the other hand, the maximum temperature is 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius). High temperatures combined with high humidity encourage the growth of mold, which is another threat to the plants.  

Here’s a table of the required growing temperature for okra plants.

Seed GerminationTemperature in FahrenheitTemperature in Celsius
Ideal85 to 9529 to 35

Remember that these refer to the soil temperature and not the air. To check, a probe-type thermometer can be used. 

If it reads a too-low temperature, one option is to wait until the sun warms up the soil. Remove debris, like leaves or grass clippings, from the soil surface for a much faster process. 

During the short growing season, you can use a cloche to trap heat, warming the air and soil near the okra seeds. A cloche can be made from a plastic water bottle to preserve warmth and humidity in the soil for the seeds to grow better.

2. Always keep the soil moist.

Always keep the soil moist
Image: Safer Brand

Okra can resist drought but must be kept moist in a long, dry spell to avoid water stress. Okra plants must be kept watered, especially if you have sandy soil that drains quickly. 

The best way to know when to water the plants is to stick your finger two inches below the surface and check if the soil is dry. If it is, they should be watered. 

It’s also better to water early in the morning instead of during nighttime to allow water to soak into the soil. Adding mulch on top of the soil will help retain its moisture and prevent root rot and death. 

3. Add compost to the soil.

Add compost to the soil
Image: Better Homes and Gardens

Putting compost into the soil before planting okra is a way to enhance drainage for clay soil and water retention for sandy soil and add nutrients to the garden.

Side-dressing okra with a balanced fertilizer or decomposed manure is another way to fertilize the plants. We recommend avoiding the ones with high nitrogen content or fresh manure since these can burn the plants.

4. Provide adequate space between okra plants.

Provide adequate space between okra plants
Image: Collection

When sowing okra seeds, plant them 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) deep and 2 inches (5 centimeters) apart. This must be finished 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost date, and thin seeds started indoors to avoid competition among the plants. 

After the last frost date, the young okra plants can be transplanted outside. Put them 12 inches (30 centimeters) apart in a row, then leave 3 feet (0.9 meters) between rows for ample space for watering, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting. 

How to Make Okra Plants Produce More Pods

Okra plants will produce more seed pods when you trim off the top of the plant, and grow them in well-draining soil. 

Here’s why these two gardening practices are effective in making okra pods grow more pods.

1. Trim the top of the okra plant.

Trim the top of the okra plant
Image: Plant Guide

Trimming the top thirds of the taller plants lets them focus more energy from the stems and leaves to bear new pods. The yellowed, wilted, or dead leaves can be cut off for the same purpose. 

When you trim the top of the okra plant, you remove the dominant growing point and redirect the plant’s energy toward the development of lateral branches. These side branches will later produce more flowers and seed pods.

2. Grow the okra plant in a well-draining soil.

Grow the okra plant in a well-draining soil
Image: Garden Stew

We also recommend planting okra in full sunlight and fertile, well-draining soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Well-draining soil allows for optimal nutrient uptake by the plant’s roots which are vital for seed pod production. 

The plants must be watered weekly, especially if not raining much. Otherwise, when soil is waterlogged, oxygen levels decrease which leads to limited nutrient availability for the plant and stunted growth.

How do you store okra?

How do you store okra
Image: Cal Gardening

Fresh okra is best stored in the fridge’s vegetable drawer, frozen or canned, to make it last for days or weeks.

Here are steps on how to refrigerate or can okra.

1. How to Refrigerate Okra

DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration30 minutes
Things You NeedPaper bagPlastic wrapper

How To Do

1. Store fresh okra in paper bags or wrap it in plastic.

2. Keep it separate from the meat in your fridge.

3. Bring it to room temperature before using.

4. Okra will stay fresh in the refrigerator for three to four days.

2. How to Freeze Okra

DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration30 minutes
Things You NeedBowl
Freezer bags

How To Do

1. Wash the okra and cut the stems.

2. Blanch it in boiling water for a few minutes.

3. Dunk the okra in an ice-water bath.

4. Chop the okra and flash freeze them on a parchment-lined tray.

5. Transfer the chopped okra into freezer bags or fry it before freezing it.

3. How to Can Okra

DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration30 minutes
Things You NeedBowl
Freezer bags

How To Do

1. Choose young and tender okra pods.

2. Wash the okra pods thoroughly and trim the ends.

3. Cut the okra into one-inch pieces.

4. Place the okra in a covered saucepan to boil for two minutes.

5. Drain and assemble hot okra in hot canning jars.

6. Add salt and fill the jars almost to the top with boiling water.

7. Remove air bubbles and let the okra process for 0 minutes.

8. Leave the jars undisturbed for 24 hours and then label accordingly.

FAQs on Okra Plants

Does okra need a trellis?

Okra plants do not need a trellis or stake as they grow. The plant can support itself with its strong stems, usually about an inch in diameter. 

Can okra grow in hot weather?

Okra can grow in hot weather as it can thrive when temperatures are above 85 degrees and continue to do so with temperatures 90 degrees or higher. This plant is also heat tolerant and requires direct sunlight for at least six to eight hours each day. 

Can okra survive in the rainy season?

Okra plants can survive during the rainy season. However, weed growth is a problem, so plastic mulching is a helpful gardening technique when planting okra during the rainy season. 

How do you cook okra?

Okra can be fried, roasted, grilled, pickled, sautéed, stewed or when added to soups. Okra pods are best when young, tender and harvested up to five days after flowering.

How can you tell if okra is bad?

An okra vegetable has gone bad or spoiled if they’ve become soft, mushy, or brown and loses its vibrant color and crunch. 

What are good companion plants for okra?

The best-growing companions for okra are basil, pepper, cucumber, melon and other flowering annual plants. They help repel pests, attract beneficial insects and keep the soil healthy for one another.

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