Okra: History, Nutritional Value, and Plant Information

okra benefits

James Mwangi Ndiritu

Environmental Governance and Management, Agribusiness consultant

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“Okra is found in its wild state on the alluvial banks of the Nile and the Egyptians were the first to cultivate it in the basin of the Nile” (12th century BC). It was propagated then through North Africa to the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and India. Okra is believed to have originated in Ethiopia or West Africa, where it was first cultivated thousands of years ago. From there, it spread throughout Africa and eventually made its way to the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia.

Nutritional value of Okra

Okra contains moderate levels of vitamins A and C, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin and is a good calcium, phosphorus, and potassium source. Below you will find an extensive list with the nutritional value of Okra:

100gr of okra consist of:

  •  Water                        89.6g
  • Energy                       138kJ /33kcal
  • Protein                      1.93g
  • Total (fat)                 0.19g
  • Ash                             0.86g
  • Carbohydrate           7.45g
  • Fiber,                         3.2g
  • Sodium                      7mg
  • Sugars, (total)          1.48g
  • Potassium                 299mg
  • Calcium                     82g
  • Phosphorus              61mg
  • Magnesium              57mg
  • Vitamin C                 23mg
  • Vitamin B6               0.215mg

Benefits of okra

  1. Okra contains a high-quality fiber that can help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down the absorption of sugar from the digestive system.
  2. The mucilage in okra has the ability to bind both cholesterol and bile acids, which can contain harmful toxins that are eliminated by the liver.
  3. It can be used to treat stomach ulcers and neutralize the acids there. Because it is quite alkaline, it provides a protective coating to the digestive tract when consumed.
  4. A common belief among alternative health practitioners is that all illnesses originate from the colon. Okra’s fiber content, which absorbs water and adds bulk to stool, can aid in preventing and treating constipation. Although fiber in general can be beneficial for this purpose, okra is considered to be one of the most effective sources of fiber.
  5. This vegetable is a safe and non-toxic alternative to some prescription and over-the-counter medications that have potential side effects and can be habit-forming.
  6. Besides contributing to the intestinal tract’s health, okra fibre (as well as flax and psyllium) has no equal among fibres for feeding the good bacteria (probiotics).


The main use of okra in cooking is to add flavor to meat dishes, and its high mucilage content makes it an excellent ingredient for thickening and flavoring stews and soups. Okra can also be boiled or fried and served as a vegetable dish. It should be cooked as little as possible to retain most of okra’s nutrients and self-digesting enzymes, e.g. with low heat or lightly steamed. Some people eat it even raw.

Plant Information

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), also “Hibiscus esculentus”. Okra is in the taxonomic group Malvaceae, the hibiscus family. In some parts of the world, it is known as Okra, or Ladies Fingers and Gombo in Swahili.  It is a tall plant with a hibiscus-like flower that originated in Africa. There are many varieties such as Clemson spineless, Lee, Annie Oakley IIand the popular Pusa sawani.

Okra is a plant that can thrive in temperate and tropical climates, and in some regions, it can grow year-round as a perennial. In areas where it grows as an annual, it can still continue to produce pods even after being cut back to about 4 feet in height, until the temperature drops too low. Okra is a warm-season crop that thrives in hot and humid climates. It requires full sun and a long growing season with temperatures consistently above 15°C (59°F)  to produce a good crop. The ideal temperature range for growing okra is between 22-35°C (71.6-95°F), with night-time temperatures above 15°C. It’s important to note that okra is sensitive to frost and cold temperatures below 12°C (53.6°F). If you live in a cooler climate, it’s best to start okra indoors or wait until the soil and air temperatures are consistently warm before planting outside. The different parts of the okra plant, such as the leaves, seeds, pods, flower buds, shoots, and calices, are all edible.

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