Abelmoschus esculentus (okra) is used in natural skin care products for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Okra, also known as “lady’s finger”, or “bamia” is one of the popular nutritious vegetables of North-East African origin. The pods usually gathered while they are green, tender, and at immature stage. The plant is cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions around the world for their fibrous fruits or “pods.” Bamia grows best in well-drained and manure rich soil.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is an economically important vegetable crop grown in tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world. Okra is a multipurpose crop due to its various uses of the fresh leaves, buds, flowers, pods, stems and seeds. Okra immature fruits, which are consumed as vegetables, can be used in salads, soups and stews, fresh or dried, fried or boiled. It offers mucilaginous consistency after cooking. Often the extract obtained from the fruit is added to different recipes like stews and sauces to increase the consistency.
Okra mucilage has medicinal applications when used as a plasma replacement or blood volume expander. The mucilage of okra binds cholesterol and bile acid carrying toxins dumped into it by the liver. Okra seeds are a potential source of oil, with concentrations varying from 20% to 40%, which consists of linoleic acid up to 47.4%.
Okra seed oil is also a rich source of linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid essential for human nutrition. Okra has been called “a perfect villager’s vegetable” because of its robust nature, dietary fiber, and distinct seed protein balance of both lysine and tryptophan amino acids. The amino acid composition of okra seed protein is comparable to that of soybean and the protein efficiency ratio is higher than that of soybean and the amino acid pattern of the protein renders it an adequate supplement to legume or cereal based diets.
Okra seed is known to be rich in high quality protein especially with regards to its content of essential amino acids relative to other plant protein sources. Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients, nearly half of which is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins which help to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart diseases. The other fraction of Okra is insoluble fiber, which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy.
Okra is also abundant with several carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins, which plays a vital role in human diet and health. Okra is rich in phenolic compounds with important biological properties like quartering and flavonol derivatives, catechin oligomers and hydroxycinnamic derivatives.
Okra is also known for being high in antioxidants activity. Okra has several potential health beneficial effects on some of the important human diseases like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive diseases and some cancers. Overall, Okra is an important vegetable crop with a diverse array of nutritional quality and potential health benefits.
The okra plant bears numerous dark green colored pods measuring about 5-15 cm in length. It takes about 45-60 days to get ready-to-harvest fruits. Internally, the pods feature small, round, mucilaginous white colored seeds arranged in vertical rows. The pods are handpicked while just short of reaching maturity and eaten as a vegetable.
Health benefits of Okra
1. The bamia pods are among the very low calorie vegetables. They provide just 30 calories per 100 g besides containing no saturated fats or cholesterol. Nonetheless, they are rich sources of dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins; often recommended by nutritionists in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
2. The pods are one of the rich sources of mucilage substance that help in smooth peristalsis of digested food through the gut and ease constipation condition.
3. The pods compose healthy amounts of vitamin A, and flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene, xanthin and lutein. It is one of the vegetables with highest levels of these anti-oxidants. These compounds are known to have antioxidant properties and are essential for vision. Vitamin A is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in flavonoids helps to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
4. Fresh pods are the good source of folates; provide about 22% of RDA per 100 g. Consumption of foods rich in folates, especially during the pre-conception period helps decrease the incidence of neural tube defects in the offspring.
5. The gumbo pods are also an excellent source of anti-oxidant vitamin, vitamin-C, providing about 36% of daily-recommended levels. Research suggests that consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps human body develop immunity against infectious agents, reduce episodes of cold and cough and protect it from harmful free radicals.
6. They are rich in B-complex group of vitamins like niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid. The pods also contain good amounts of vitamin K. Vitamin K is a co-factor for blood clotting enzymes and is required for strengthening of bones.
7. The pods are also good source of many important minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium.
Other Names for Okra: Gumbo, Lady fingers (English), Huang su kui (Chinese), Gombo (Spanish), bhindi (Hindi/Urdu), krachiap mon (Thailand), bamya (Arab Ochro, Okoro, Quimgombo, Quingumbo,
Okra is a flowering plant in the mallow family. Okra is an annual herb that is widely cultivated for its edible green seed pods in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate climates. Okra is a hardy plant that can grow even with less water and in hot conditions.
Okra is somewhat related to cotton and hollyhock. Okra plant can grow up to 9 feet in height with heart shaped leaves that is palmate with 5 to 7 lobes. Okra flowers are large with 5 petals colored white or yellow and sometimes with a reddish-purple base. Okra seed pods are 3 to 10 inches in length about ½ to 1 inch wide. Okra fruit or pod is usually green in color with a new red variety. It is tapering in shape with ribs along its length.
Okra Health Benefits:
• Decoction of young okra fruit is used to treat inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially of the respiratory tract, accompanied by excessive secretions.
• Okra juice is used to treat sore throat associated with coughing
• Decoction of okra leaves, fruits and leaves are used to treat urinary problems, such as painful urination and other genitourinary problems including gonorrhea and syphilis.
• Okra leaves and roots used as poultice for wounds
• Okra juice used to treat diarrhea with fever and related abdominal pains
• Okra juice used to treat skin itchiness and as skin moisturizer.
• Okra leaves used for inflammation
• Okra fruits are eaten to treat involuntary discharge of semen
• Roasted okra seeds are used to promote sweating
• Okra seeds are used to treat and prevent muscle spasms
• Decoction of okra is used to treat fever, headache and arthritis.
• Okra is rich in fiber that absorbs water and improves the bulk of stool. Very effective against diarrhea and constipation.
• Okra’s mucilage binds with cholesterol and bile acids and expelled through stool from the body.
• Okra helps in lowering the blood sugar level by blocking the absorption of sugar in the intestinal tract.
• Okra’s mucilage acts as a lubricant and a laxative for the intestinal tract facilitating the easy passage of waste.
• Okra is believed to help smoothen the skin and prevent the eruption of pimples and acne.
Anti Diabetic Health Benefit Of Okra
In a study published in “Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences 2011” entitled “Anti diabetic and antihyperlipidemic potential of Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench. In streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats”, suggests that extracts from okra could be developed as a prospective phytomedicinal plant against diabetes mellitus. The results have shown that by administration of okra extracts to diabetic rats, there was a significant reduction in blood glucose level and the lipid profile level also have normalized.
Antibacterial Activity Of Okra
In a study entitled “Glycosylated compounds from okra inhibit adhesion of Helicobacter pylori to human gastric mucosa”, the crude polysaccharide isolated from the fresh juice by ethanolic precipitation showed strong inhibitory effects. Okra fresh juice preparation inhibited the bacterial adhesion almost completely in the gastric mucosa. The anti adhesive qualities of okra were assumed to be due to a combination of glycoproteins and highly acidic sugar compounds making up a complex three-dimensional structure that is fully developed only in the fresh juice of the okra fruit.
Antioxidant Health Benefit Of Okra
In a study entitled “Antioxidant and hepatoprotective effect of the roots of Hibiscus esculentus Linn”.of the Department of Pharmacognosy, School of Pharmacy, Masterskill University College of Health Sciences, Selangor, Malaysia, showed that (H.esculentus) okra root ethanol extract posses in vitro free radical scavenging activity which was well comparable with Silymarin. Okra contains flavanoids that may have anti-oxidant and hepatoprotective activities. The present study further suggests that phenolic compounds of the roots H esculentus provide a good source of antioxidants that could offer potential protective effects against lipid oxidation and which could be exploited to make a hepato protective formulation
Okra Use Cautions And Warnings
Okra is a highly nutritious vegetable that is non toxic and safe for consumption even for young children and pregnant women. However, In a study entitled “Evaluation of The Deleterious Effects of Aqueous Fruit Extract of Abelmoschus Esculentus (Okro Fruit) on Some Male Reproductive Parameters in Sprague Dawley Rats” published in “Journal of Phytology 2009” suggests that the methanol fruit extract of okra significantly reduced the mean weight of testes; this is supported by the histological studies which showed testicular atrophy. There was significant reduction in the weight of the prostate gland. Although not conclusive but it may affect male fertility.