August 01, 2017

Plant of the Month: Okra

bloom and foliage

Many people think of Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) as an edible plant to grow in a cultivated vegetable garden. That is all well and good, but the flowers are attractive, too. Since Okra is in the Malvaceae or Mallow family, its flowers resemble those of Hibiscus, Hollyhocks, and others.

okra pods
Public Domain Photo: Bill Tarpenning - USDA

I've never grown Okra, but I happened across a pretty crop of it recently and got to thinking it would be a nice plant to add to a sunny potager garden someday. I've eaten Okra several times, and the preparation made a difference to my palate. Since it can be a little slimy, I prefer it breaded and deep or pan fried. How about you?

Okra's beginnings are apparently disputed, but it's believed to be originally from West Africa, Ethiopia, and/or South Asia. It's commonly grown around the world as a crop--perennial in warm climates and annual in climates with harsher winters. The seedpods and leaves can be cooked, and the leaves can also be used in salads. New to me was the fact that the seeds can be roasted and ground as a caffeine-free substitute for coffee.

buds

Anyway, back to the beautiful plant, itself. I find the fuzzy buds particularly beautiful.

side view

A side view shows the attractive petal veining, the deep magenta stems, and the pretty developing seedpods. (There are other varieties and colors, but I find this one particularly beautiful.)

foliage

Even the deeply lobed and serrated foliage has visual interest.

bloom

And, of course, the flowers themselves--like others in the Mallow family--are like dreamy colorful puffs of soft clouds.

buds and bloom

How about you? Do you grow Okra? What do you think about the ornamental value of this plant?

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Note: I'm taking a short break to attend a conference, but I'll be back soon. Happy gardening!

43 comments:

  1. Beth, I love okra plants! My mother and I grew them in central Ohio decades ago. The flowers are stunning - as can be seen in your photos! You are right, fried okra is delish. Jason and I also like an Indian okra dish, but I can't recall the name. Fried okra pods make a great fall indoor arrangement.

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    1. Hi Judy: Thanks for sharing your memories! I love the flowers. The veggie is OK, if cooked to a crisp. ;-) Someday, if I have a sunny garden again, I think I'll plant a little Okra--for the flowers and to have a few pods for fried Okra. Thanks for the tip on using the pods for indoor arrangements!

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  2. Such a pretty flower Beth . . .
    I have never eaten Okra, or grown it . . .
    I will have to add it to my "try" list.

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    1. Yes, it's worth a try, Lynne. Some people really like it. As with so many vegetables, I'm sure it tastes fine pan fried in butter and garlic. ;-) I'm sure there are some good recipes for it.

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  3. Wow - I've not grown okra but it sure is beautiful! I have had okra only once, many years ago in some sort of Indian dish and I think I liked it, but can't really recall how it was prepared. The slime aspect sort of puts me off, which is likely why I haven't made an attempt to grow it yet. Once I get my new beds up and running, I'm planning on trying more unusual (around here anyway) veg, including okra.

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    1. Yes, the flowers are so pretty. I agree: If not cooked enough, there's a slimy consistency that I don't like. But I remember eating it in a dish that was fried, and it was tasty.

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  4. I like dried okra to dip with. We can purchase dried okra here. They are a good substitute for chips occasionally.

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    1. Oh, that sounds tasty! I'll have to try that! I'll try to find some dried Okra at the market. Thanks!

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    1. I haven't had gumbo much. I think I had some in New Orleans that was good.

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  6. What a lovely flower, and well worth growing. Didn't know about okra.
    Amanda xx

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    1. Yes, I love the flower! And the veggie is OK sometimes, too. For me, it makes a huge difference how it's prepared.

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  7. Okra is a beautiful plant - we're having some wonderful heirloom red okra as part of dinner this evening (I provided seeds for the community garden where I volunteer). It's just coming in!

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    1. Nice! I agree: The plant--all parts of it, including the flower--is gorgeous. I especially like the red/burgundy varieties. Enjoy!

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  8. I love fried okra! I think it's pretty, too. But the plant, not the little fried pieces. Fried food has a pretty low ceiling for beauty. ;)

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    1. LOL. Yeah, fried food usually isn't terribly photogenic, but it sure tastes great! The plant is definitely a looker. ;-)

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  9. I love okras!!! I cultivated okras when living in Majorca and they were perfect in many ways: beautiful flowers and a great interest both in the potager and garden, and delicious food for cooking, wether grilled or in salads, or added to some soups or stews. You need to try grow the, they are quite easy, only need good sun and temperature, and nutritive soil and you will have more than you can eat! Thanks for the photos!

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    1. Ah, I suppose they would grow very well in Majorca! I think Okra is a great plant for a potager. I hope my next garden will have much more sun so I can try some of these things. I don't think I would like it in salads, unless it was dried, but grilled or pan fried/sauteed...yes, that sounds tasty!

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  10. I've never grown okra, because like you, Beth, I'm not that fond of it. I do like fried okra, and I sometimes add some frozen okra to soups, but it's not worth the space in my vegetable garden just for that. But I have seen it growing in gardens in this area, and I agree the blooms are lovely!

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    1. I think I'd like to try growing it when I have a sunnier garden (that's the goal for the next place). Lisa mentioned dried Okra for dipping: I need to try that!

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  11. What a surprise! (knew nothing of okra's backstory). My mother grew up in Georgia, then moved to California. She hated many things Southern (e.g. segregation), including okra. So I didn't taste it until I was visiting my grandmother, in my 20s. Not impressed--too salty, and seemed overcooked.

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    1. Wow--you've had a much different experience than your mother did. Wyoming seems like the opposite of Georgia in many ways. For me, the preparation makes all the difference. But I need to try it more. I'm thinking I'd like dried Okra or Okra sauteed in butter and garlic.

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  12. I came to appreciate okra late in life. My mother-in-law grew it in her garden. The flowers are indeed quite attractive. I love the vegetable dipped in cornmeal and fried, or in the Indian dish bhindi masala.

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    1. Bhindi masala: I will try that next time I eat at an Indian restaurant. We have several very good ones here in Madison. I really love the flowers: The more I think about it, the more I want to grow it for the flowers. ;-)

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  13. I've tried growing it for the flowers, but unsuccessfully. Even if I did get a crop, I think I'd leave the culinary uses for others to explore.

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    1. I know I wouldn't have any luck in my current shady garden, so I'll have to admire it in others' gardens for now. I'm willing to try the veggie more--especially after reading all the suggestions in the comments. I know, however, that I don't like it raw or if it isn't cooked enough.

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  14. Hi,
    I have not tried to grow okra, but my friend Marv has. He did well with it. We fried it, and that is how I like it best.
    Yes, the flowers are the first thing I noticed about the okra when Marv was growing it. I just loved the flower and took many photos of the flowers.
    Fun post!
    Have a fun time at your conference.
    Carla

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    1. How nice to have a friend who's growing it! The foliage, the seedpods, and the flowers are so lovely. So, if I ever have a sunny garden, I will try growing it. I might even eat the seedpods--dried, sauteed, or fried. :)

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  15. It's stupid of me but I've never thought to wonder what an Okra flower would look like. If I'd had to guess I would have suggested something like a squash - which it sort of is. Hollyhocks are among my favourite flowers but I confess I really don't like okra.

    I've moved away from coastal Dorset now to very urban Halifax in West Yorkshire so have moved blogs to avoid confusion. All my posts are not going to 'Loose and Leafy in Halifax'.

    https://looseandleafyinhalifax.blogspot.co.uk/

    Hope you enjoy the conference.

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    1. Thanks for the redirection information for your blog, Lucy! I will be stopping by soon. I love Hollyhocks and Mallows, so it makes sense that I would be attracted to the Okra flowers (and stems and foliage).

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  16. Wow, that's a lovely plant. Never have tried okra or really given a thought to it, so this was a very interesting post.

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    1. It is a beauty, isn't it? I've only had Okra a few times--sometimes I've liked it; other times not. I've learned a lot from the comments--including suggestions for preparing Okra. :)

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  17. I do not grow okra. I truly hate boiled okra; it makes me gag, like eating raw slugs! My mother cooked the slimy things frequently during summer, and every time my father tried to force me to eat it, resulting in trauma and tears. It is an unpleasant memory. I can eat the breaded, fried version, but it is not a favorite. However, as you demonstrate, it is a pretty plant!

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    1. You should try it raw, Deb! Or parboiled for just a couple of minutes. Or roasted...

      Well, as you can tell, I like okra quite a bit, but not prepared the way your mom cooked it.

      And as Beth has shown, it's a beautiful plant.

      I think the 'slime' is actually supposed to be very good for our stomachs - like a protective coating.

      I've tried growing it a couple of times. Had good luck one summer. Not so much the next. But I do plan to try growing it again someday...

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    2. Deb and Aaron: Yes, I have to agree with Deb about the slime factor. Although I have liked it fried and in a few other ways. What's interesting to me is that there are so many ways to prepare it, which I guess is true of many vegetables. I've learned to try new ways to prepare veggies that I didn't like as a child--only to find out that they're delicious when prepared in a different way. I will try growing Okra if I ever have a sunnier garden. I LOVE the plant as an ornamental, and then I can share the pods with others. ;-)

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  18. Hi Beth, I've not tried to grow okra, not tempted because I've never liked its texture. But I've never had it breaded and maybe it would be OK fried. As an ornamental I agree it's lovely, and I also had no idea about the seeds, or that the leaves can be used in salads. I reckon up till recently we've all been very conservative in our choice of salad leaves. Now I'm learning about the incredible variety of shapes, colours and tastes. Edible flowers are very trendy now too.

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    1. Good point about being conservative with salad greens! There are so many amazing garden plants with edible leaves. Sometimes I like to use radish leaves from my CSA food share in salads. I think I even like the leaves better than the radishes!

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  19. I think it's great. Saw some wonderful garden patches in the south with stands of both the green and red pod varieties. Very attractive. Kevin, the first year I grew it, decided that he was going to do some garden grooming and rather sheepishly appeared in the kitchen with the only remaining okra plant between his two fingers that he had just chopped out of the garden. "I'm thinking I shouldn't have cut this down?", says he. Oh my. So in my case, it was neither ornamental, nor edible -- perhaps good as a compost ingredient? So good to see you in Buffalo!

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    1. Hi Barbara: It was great to see you again in Buffalo! Oh dear, sorry about the ravaged Okra. I'll bet Kevin felt terrible! I've never tried to grow it because of my lack of sun here, but I think I'd grow it in a sunny garden just for the flowers!

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  20. Pretty and edible, you can't beat that! I've only ever used okra in jambalaya but may need to try something different.

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    1. Agreed! Jambalaya is pretty good--I enjoyed eating it in NOLA. I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to fix it myself, though. ;-) But, yes, the Okra flowers are beautiful, and a plant that offers both beauty and sustenance is special.

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  21. How intriguing Beth...and yes I do find the flowers stunning enough for a garden with an added bonus of the veggie. I love okra but this year the crop was dismal....of course my husband pulled out half when he was weeding...yikes! I am rethinking where I plant them for next year!

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    1. Sounds like you and Margaret need to get together to figure out a stealth strategy to shelter your Okra from your hubbies! LOL! I can't say I love the taste, although it's OK prepared in some ways. But I DO love the flowers.

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