Another addition to the list of vegetables with tremendous and promising potential in the health world is Okra. Abelmoschus esculentus or Hibiscus esculentus, okra is also referred to as Lady’s finger outside US in English speaking countries and bhindi in India. Okra is popular not only for its culinary benefits but for its wide range of medicinal properties and nutritional value as well.
Photo from Flickr
An enthralling history of Okra
- There is a preponderance of evidence suggesting that Okra goes back to Africa in history, but there are strong beliefs suggesting that it wove its way into India, relatively early in the Indian history. It is a member of the mallow family and is closely related to the Cotton and Hibiscus flowers.
- Cleopatra of Egypt and Yang Guifei of China; world’s most beautiful women are known to love and have made Okra as a regular part of their diet!
- During World War II, Okra seeds from mature pods, were roasted and used in place of coffee beans for making coffee as there was a shortage of coffee at that time. “Okra fever” is a term that was a consequence of this use of Okra!
Food Facts of Okra
There are numerous health benefits associated with Okra. Okra is a rich source of many nutrients, including fiber, Vitamin B6 and folic acid. There are a number of reasons for which Okra is considered to be a healthy diet:
- Low in calories
- Good source of fiber
- Good source of calcium
- Good source of potassium
- Good source of folate
Nearly half of the nutrient is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectin. The other half is insoluble fiber.
Raw Okra has better nutritional value and hence a lot of users prefer to have it uncooked for health benefits. It is for this reason that some health practitioners suggest that Okra should be cooked as less as possible.
Herbal remedies using okra
Okra is known to have enormous health benefits and is used widely in various herbal home remedies. It is known to be beneficial for several ailments such as fevers, gastric ulcers, catarrh, inflammation of the mucus membrane, difficulty in urination and dysentery.
It is also considered a remedy for involuntary discharge of semen (known as spermatorrhea (in medical jargon), syphilis, gonorrhea, and other genital disorders.
The fruit is also known to enhance sexual potency.
A few home remedies:
- The tender fruit is boiled and used for the treatment of fevers, gastric ulcers, catarrh, inflammation of the mucus membrane, difficulty in urination and dysentery.
- The unripe fruit is eaten for treatment of tuberculosis.
- Okra is consumed daily for relief from constipation.
- The infusion of seeds can induce perspiration and hence helpful in bringing down body temperature.
- The decoction of the leaves and flowers of the Okra plant are used for the treatment of bronchitis and pneumonia.
- The decoction of leaves and flowers is also used as an external preparation for the relief of rheumatism and congestion in varicose veins.
- The seeds of the mature pods are roasted and drunk as coffee for a strong heart.
- The decoction of the roots of the Okra plant also possesses similar health benefits as the fruits.
- Eating Okra is good for summer heat treatment.
Okra in Ayurveda
Traditional medicine system has enumerated numerous health benefits of Okra inclusive of:
- Stabilizing blood sugar levels
- Lowering serum cholesterol levels
- Prevention of constipation
- Maintaining a healthy intestinal tract
- Maintain the fauna of the intestine by feeding the healthy bacteria (probiotics).
- The fibers present in the Okra curb the rate of absorption of sugars from intestine and are therefore beneficial in regulating bloods sugar levels.
The mucilage present in Okra binds cholesterol in the blood and also the bile acids carrying toxins thus excreting it from the body with other wastes and helps in reducing the cholesterol levels in the blood.
Okra fibers absorb water and ensure bulk in stool. The mucilage soothes and lubricates the intestinal tract and facilitates the elimination.
Some specific ailments for which Okra is known to be beneficial are:
- Acid reflux and constipation: Okra is a good herbal remedy for the treatment of chronic constipation and acidity.
- Asthma: Okra has high amounts of Vitamin C and is hence beneficial in reducing the wheezing associated with asthma in children.
- Atherosclerosis: Okra reduces cholesterol levels and hence the consequent hardening of the arteries as well. It is a good preventive vegetable for risk of heart diseases both in men and women.
- Cancer: It is also known to decrease the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer.
- Capillary fragility: Okra helps in supporting the capillary structure.
- Cataracts: The rich content of Vitamin A in okra is helpful in preventing cataracts.
- Cholesterol: Research has supported the fact that consuming okra as part of daily dose of vegetable diet can reduce cholesterol levels nearly as well as the prescription drug lovastatin.
- Depression: it is a good vegetable for people suffering from weakness, exhaustion and depression.
- High homocysteine: Okra has large quantities of vitamins and folic acid, and controlled trial studies have shown it to be capable of lowering homocysteine levels along with other vegetables and fruits.
- Multiple sclerosis: Researchers have concluded that use of Okra and other vegetables, which are rich in Vitamin C, riboflavin, calcium and potassium are correlated with a decreased Multiple sclerosis.
Okra and diabetes
- Okra is considered as a beneficial part of your diabetic diet as it is considered to regulate blood sugar levels. Okra is considered helpful in;
- Nephropathy risk: Research studies have revealed that diabetics on daily Okra diet showed better kidney health over control groups (people on traditional diabetic treatment but without Okra)
- Helps weight control: Okra is a low calorie vegetable and hence helps in promoting weight loss.
- Reduces stroke risk: Okra reduces the risk of heart diseases as it lowers cholesterol levels in the blood.
- “Jilin Medical Journal”; The clinical research of okra in treatment of diabetic nephropathy; Liu Ke-hu, et al; Oct. 2005
- University of Illinois Extension: Okra
- Raymond D. Book of Eggplant, okra and peppers. Villard books, 1987.