Virginia Farm Flavors: Meet Okra Winfrey

Okra may very well be one of the most glamorous crops we have here on the farm. This diva of a vegetable grows so tall that I (a person who measures 5’3” on a good day) have to pull it down almost in half to meet me where I am, all to pluck a few beautiful and tender pods off the main stalk. Okra grows in a spiral formation out of a beautiful hibiscus-like flower and is actually related to ornamental flowering hibiscus plants. So really, we’re just getting the best of both worlds: beauty and food. Many parts of the okra plant can actually be used for food, even though we mostly stick just to the pod in a lot of American cuisines. But however you slice it or dice it, okra actually has substantial nutritional benefits including high fiber content, as well as B vitamins, magnesium, and folate!

When you break open a raw okra pod you’ll likely find round little seeds popping out along with a cool, juicy interior. This is just another example of how plants are magic and they know exactly what we need when we need it. This somewhat liquidy part of the plant is soothing, and just like its cousin, the marshmallow root, this aspect of okra has been found to be highly anti-inflammatory, as well as rich in antioxidants and cooling in the summer sun. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, plants like okra help cool the blood and clear inflammation, phlegm, and infectious conditions. Okra has also been found to be particularly high in antioxidant activity, which has been shown to fight free-radical damage as well as improve cardiovascular damage, coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and digestive disorders.

Okra can be tossed into a myriad of dishes: hot, cold, quick snacks, and large meals. I love seared okra with shrimp and green beans for supper and baked popcorn okra for a summer snack treat (check out this recipe here.) While the pod fruit itself is extremely versatile, so is the rest of the plant. You may have seen us this winter trying to make rope out of the long stalks. Apparently, it can be done… just not by us. While we weren’t so fortunate, others have been quite successful in making cords and rope. Not to mention all the okra crafts out there! I swear there are entire Pinterest boards filled with the cutest holiday ornaments made out of dried okra!
Now that summer’s in full swing, large okra harvests are just around the corner. Make sure to get all your okra recipes ready, your jars out for pickling, your wreath forms set out for okra wreaths, etc., etc.