Gardening for Health

OK, Time for Okra 

If you planted okra this year, your old growth should be forming now. Okra is in the malvaceae or mallows family of plants. Elegant and exotic might be used to describe members of the mallow family with their dazzling beautiful flowers. Underneath the beauty of the flowers, you’ll find potent medicines and nutrients that have benefited human health for centuries. Some of the most distinguished mallow plants are marshmallow, hollyhock, Linden tree, hibiscus, cacao, and cotton.  

Okra loves hot weather and matures quickly when the thermometer peaks. I have harvested from my plants every day. A lot of people don’t like okra because of its slimy or mucilaginous nature. It’s great in gumbo or stews because it helps thicken them and the sliminess is undetectable. 

Okra contains a compound that shows promise for fighting cancer and heart disease. Glutathione in okra acts as a powerful antioxidant that prevents free radicals from damaging healthy cells and cause them to become cancerous. In addition, glutathione prevents carcinogens from damaging DNA. It may also help the body excrete cancer-causing chemicals into the urine and out of the body. Studies have shown that people with the highest intake of glutathione were 50 percent less likely to develop oral and throat cancers. 

Okra also has healthful nutrients like vitamin C, calcium, and potassium and it’s very low in calories.  There’s a good source of two kinds of fiber in okra, soluble and insoluble. The soluble fiber helps lowers cholesterol and control symptoms of diabetes. The insoluble fiber or roughage may help reduce the risk of colon cancer and constipation. 

Gumbo’s predecessor was okra soup with clear ties to West Africa, especially Senegal’s soupikandia, an okra thickened soupy stew. Okra soup was prepared by enslaved cooks and then quickly adapted into the food and culture of the American South, but it was clearly the creation of enslaved Africans. 

To make okra soup, heat a Dutch oven with 4 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add a small chopped onion, 2 tablespoons parsley, one clove garlic, minced and 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add 4 cups chicken broth, 3 cups water, 3½ cups of diced fresh tomatoes, and 2 cups of okra cut into small pieces. Add 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, ¼ teaspoon each of mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add 2 cups of cooked rice and mix well. Enjoy.