The Slime Means It’s Herbal

The bulk of okra crop production in California remains in Imperial County, 129 miles from Fallbrook. Though a relatively small amount of acreage there (184 acres) is devoted to this plant, okra remains an important and lucrative crop for California farmers and everyone who loves it.

Oh, you don’t care for okra? All you can think about is its gooey or mucilaginous insides? And you always thought it to be strictly an old Southern vegetable mainly found in gumbo. Think again.

Mainly grown in India, okra (abelmoschus esculentus) or lady’s fingers is technically a fruit, like string beans, eggplant and squash. In the mallow family, with a gorgeous yellow, cream, pink or white flower, it is related to hibiscus, cotton, cocoa and hollyhock. Valued mainly for its pods and seeds, the entire plant is edible. The “slime,” or mucilage inside the pod is especially medicinal. Okra is high in fiber, low calorie and packed with vitamins A, B1, 2, 6, C, folate, magnesium, zinc and calcium. Promoting good digestion, while lowering blood sugar and cholesterol, makes okra truly herbal.

Because I attended a seminar in May on “Forgotten Herbs in the Garden” and came away so excited and curious, I decided to grow okra for myself. In June, I purchased a six-pack of starters  instead of planting seeds. (I’m impatient!) Amended and prepared soil, full sun, regular watering and large space was all I need- ed. What happened next was amazing. Adding organic composted fertilizer from time to time, the plants grew like shrubs and then almost like small trees. The variety named ‘Clemson Spineless’ was suggested and welcomed because they stay somewhat short, but still tall enough to plant tender herbs like parsley in the shade of their large leaves. Some okra varieties can grow to 6 feet or more. I supported mine with stakes, just in case.

Okra is self-pollinating and produces large 5-petaled flowers each with a red or purple spot at its base. After the flower falls, get ready. Pods start forming immediately. The pods seem to grow longer by the day as well as overnight. Harvesting is continuous and will last into September and maybe October. To prevent skin irritation or damage to the tender pods, it should be done carefully, wearing cotton gloves. I have given okra to my neighbors, my mail person, my hairdresser and anyone who comes to visit, like the Amazon man. I confess I have never purposely pulled a healthy herbal plant, but both my plants will produce an adequate supply to grill, steam, fry, pickle and eat with dip on my veggie platters (yes, you can eat them raw.) I can also flavor and thicken my soups, stews, gumbos and thank goodness, freeze them! Nevertheless, I will always be an okra lover.

FYI! Just wanted to pass along a warning by the FDA on a cyclospora illness linked to fresh basil, exported from Mexico by Siga Logistics de RL de CV, located in Morelos, Mexico. Siga Logistics de RL de CV recalled potentially affected basil on July 24, 2019. Consumers should not buy, eat, or serve any fresh basil exported by Siga Logistics de RL de CV located in Morelos, Mexico.

By Cheryl Balster