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Okra leaves are medium in size and oblong to heart-shaped, averaging 7-15 centimeters in length. The vibrant green leaves are covered in small bristles or spines, have serrated edges, and tapers to a point on the non-stem end. There are 5-7 lobes on each stem, and the leaves grow in an alternate pattern. Young Okra leaves are petite, tender, and mildly grassy while mature leaves will become tougher and develop a slightly acidic flavor. Okra trees are also known for their green pods that encase small seeds in a sticky fluid, averaging 10-12 centimeters in length. Both the leaves and the pods are mucilaginous, which means they have a slimy texture when sliced and cooked.
Okra leaves are available late summer through fall.
Okra leaves, botanically classified as Abelmoschus esculentus, grow on an annual flowering plant and are members of the Malvaceae family along with cotton and cacao. Also known as Bhindi, Lady’s finger, Ochro, and Okro, Okra grows in tropical and subtropical climates and is largely grown in the western hemisphere. The entire plant including the leaves, flowers, and pods are edible, and okra plants can grow up to two meters tall. Okra leaves are grown for ornamental, medicinal, and culinary use.
Okra leaves are an excellent source of fiber and also contain vitamins A and C, calcium, protein, and iron.
Okra leaves are best suited for cooked applications such as sautéing, stir-frying, and boiling as the heat softens the leaves and helps reduce their spiny texture. They can be consumed raw and used instead of spinach or beet greens in salads, or cooked and used in soups, stews, gumbos, and curries. The leaves have a thickening effect in cooked applications and can be boiled to make tea. Both the leaves and the pods can also be dried and then crushed or ground into a powder to be used as a seasoning or nutritional supplement. Okra leaves pair well with cardamom, turmeric, garlic, onion, rice, sausage, beef, chicken, and pork. They will keep up to three days when stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
In Turkey and China, Okra leaves are used topically to reduce pain and swelling of bodily injuries. The leaves are commonly ground and made into a poultice to place on sores and wounds. Okra leaves are also used to balance digestion and internal health. In traditional Chinese medicine, Okra is believed to have cooling properties and helps add water back into the digestive tract which will help fight inflammation and promote good bacteria.
Okra is believed to be native to Africa and was quickly spread to India and the Middle East via trade routes. It was then spread to Brazil in the late 17th century and was planted in Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello Garden in the early 19th century. Today Okra leaves can be found at specialty markets in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and North and South America.