Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a flowering plant in the family Malvaceae (or mallow family); thus, it is related to such species as cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus. Okra plants can grow as tall as 5 to 6 feet with leaves that are 4 to 7 inches long. The edible Okra pods that develop can reach a length of 6 to 7 inches or longer (depending on the variety); however, longer pods typically become fibrous and woody so they should be harvested while still immature (even as early as 1 week of the fruit being pollinated).
Okra is among the most heat and drought tolerant vegetable species in the world.; conversely, it needs to avoid any chances of frost since that will damage the pods. Okra will even tolerate soils with heavy clay and intermittent moisture. Okra seeds need to be directly planted in the garden, and for best germination results the seeds can be soaked overnight prior to planting. Young seedlings require ample water. The most common disease afflicting the okra plant is verticillium wilt, often causing yellowing and wilting of the leaves. Other diseases include leaf spots, and root-knot nematodes, plus beware of powdery mildew in dry, humid regions.
Okra is a popular health food because of its high fiber, vitamin C, and folate content. It is also known as being high in antioxidants, and it is a good source of calcium and potassium. Okra can be prepared fresh boiled in water; however, many people prefer to cut the pods in small sections to pan-fry in oil after coating the sections with cornmeal. Okra is also tasty in stir-fry recipes. Extremely popular in parts of the Southern U.S. is a “stew” known as Gumbo, which has okra as a main ingredient.