Health from your Garden – VII; Ladies Finger/Okra.

Ladies Finger or Okra is a common and popular vegetable used the world over in all types of cuisines. Also called as Bhindi, Bamia, Ochro or Gumbo, it is a flowering plant in the “mallow” family. The green seed pods are the edible and usable part of this plant. The pods are rich in many micro nutrients and have several health benefits if regularly used.

Okra is a flowering plant of the Malvaceae family and botanically called as Abelmoschusesculentus. It is an annual and perennial plant growing up to 2 m tall and related to species like cotton, cocoa and hibiscus. The leaves are 10-20 cms long, palmately lobed with 5-7 lobes. Flowers have white to yellow petals,often with red or purple spots and are 4-8 cms in diameter. The fruit is a capsule up to 18 cm long containing numerous seeds. The plant is among the most heat- and drought-tolerant vegetable species in the world and can grow in various types of soil. It grows best in well drained and manure rich soils. The fruits are best harvested within a week after pollination, at which time it is soft, green, tender and immature. Mature pods are fibrous and woody and not preferred for any type of cooking.

Okra plant with immature pods/fruits.

Okra – whole plant with flowers and fruits

Nutritional value:

Okra, Raw – nutritional values per 100 gms

Energy – 33 Cal
Carbohydrates – 7.45 g
Sugar – 1.48 g
Dietary fibre – 3.2 g
Fat – 0.19 g
Proteins – 2.0 g
Vitamins – A, B1, B2, C , E K etc Minerals – Calcium, Iron, Magnesium,Potassium & Zinc.
Water content – 90.17 g.

Health benefits:

  • Okra is a low calorie vegetable and without saturated fats and cholesteroland rich in dietary fibres, vitamins and minerals. So it is highly recommended for regular use for cholesterol control and weight reduction programmes.
  • The mucilage in the pods helps lubrication and promotes peristalsis and thus helps control constipation.
  • Rich in vitamin A and anti-oxidant flavonoids beta-carotene, xanthin and lutein, okra is supposed to promote good vision, health of mucous membranes and skin and also has some protective action against oral and lung cancers.
  • Hundred grams of fresh pods of okra contain up to 22% RDA of folates, which in early pregnancy are known to decrease incidence of neural tube defects in the offspring.
  • Rich Vitamin C content in ladies fingers helps boost immunity and protects against incidence of cold and coughs.
  • B complex vitamins and Vitamin K in Okra supports blood clotting enzymes and bone strength.
  • The pods are also good source of many essential minerals like Iron, Calcium, Manganese and Magnesium.

Medicinal Uses:

In Ayurvedic medicines okra has many uses as medicine for various simple and common ailments.

Daily Uses of Ladies Finger/Okra:

  • Tender ladies fingers – sliced and mildly steam cooked can be used as salad along with other vegetables.
  • Various types of tasty Dry Palyas can be prepared and eaten regularly.
  • Several variants of South Indian Sambar containing Okra are popular dishes in all households in India.
  • Okra is also added in many meat preparations.

Stir fried okra

Okra pickles

Ladies finger or Okra is a very nutritious and mineral and vitamins rich vegetable easily grown even in all kitchen gardens. Frequent use of this vegetable in our daily cuisine has many health benefits. For maximum benefits one has to use fresh tender pods, rid of all insecticides and chemicals and cooked minimally to retain micro nutrients.

Best Wishes,
Compiled by
Dr M Mohan Rao,
Director & Chief Surgeon (Retired),
Memorial Hospital, Chennai.
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