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How to Grow Okra and Why You’ll Want To

When to Plant Okra

We’ve been watching the soil temperature, waiting for it to get warm enough here in NC for planting okra. The soil needs to be at more than 60℉, and thanks to some very warm days, we are ready to plant! It’s like a right of passage to get those okra seeds into the ground. It means gardening season is full on!

Planting okra signifies gardening season is now in full swing!

Okra Flower

The lovely okra flower resembles its cousin in the mallow family, the hibiscus.


Mention okra to someone and you’ll likely get one of two reactions.

“Okra is soooo good in soups, steamed, and—my favorite—breaded with cornmeal and fried.”

If you love fried green tomatoes… things southerners understand, you’ll love fried okra. We’re not talking about healthy eating here… but good old fashioned comfort food, southern fried style.

The alternate reaction will likely be a slight wincing of the facial muscles and:

“Ewwww, okra is so gross. I can’t stand slimy okra!”

Mentioning there are ways to cook away the “slime”, also known as mucilaginous properties, has little effect on the never okra tribe. They’ve been badly initiated.

The Okra Family Mallow

As a member of the mallow family, okra has the prettiest blossoms in the garden resembling its cousin, the flowering hibiscus. Scientifically dubbed Abelmoschus esculentus, okra plants are a warm-season crop grown in home gardens throughout the South and in other regions. It is a tall, upright plant with a showy flower. The immature, young seed pods are the edible part of this plant. 1)

Okra, Okro, Lady Finger, Bhindi…

Also known as “lady finger” and “okro”, okra is popular in Indian and African cuisine. Said to originate in Africa, there’s some dispute and vaguity around it’s exact origins. However, we do now that it’s actually a perennial in its originating tropical and subtropical climates. For North American climate, okra is grown elsewhere as a garden annual.

In the South, we have the luxury of just sticking seeds in the warm ground (note: an overnight soak in tepid water helps germinate). Those in other regions may need to get a head start with indoor seeding and setting out the transplants after last frost. Even then, a row cover might be handy in speeding up the growth. Greenhouse growing is also an option. 1) 1)

Soaking okra seeds overnight in tepid water helps germination.

Okra Plant Image

Gardens All Facebook community member, Patricia McMaster shared her lovely image of okra growing in her garden in Oklahoma. Patricia’s farm is McMaster Farmstead, on Facebook.

“Love growing okra here in Oklahoma. We eat it all the time and the blooms are beautiful!” Okra plant image by Patricia McMaster, of McMaster Farmstead

Edible Parts of Okra

For those interested in growing the most food in the least amount of space, okra has the benefit of being highly edible. While most people just eat the okra “fruit”, (yep… okra is a fruit and not actually a vegetable, though we all eat it and think of it as such), that’s not the only edible parts of okra.  1)

You can eat the “fruit”, leaves, flowers and seeds of the okra plant!

Okra leaves can be eaten as you would spinach: raw in salads, steamed, sautéed and in soups. Here’s an okra greens and corn recipe.1)

Okra seeds can even be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute, similar to chicory, barley, and dandelion roots. 1)


Okra Nutrition

Delicious and nutritious, okra helps your heart, your intestinal tract, and may assist in the reduction of high cholesterol.

Okra has substantial vitamins C, A, and folate, as well as the minerals, iron, potassium and magnesium. Preliminary studies show that okra may be beneficial for diabetes due to an ability to lower blood sugar in lab studies of mice.

Okra Water, Okra Extract and Okra Seeds – Medicinal Benefits

This diabetes prevention benefit, is perhaps why some cultures have a tradition of drinking okra water. In one study they used the okra seed extract for the treatment and prevention of diabetes.1) In the other study, an okra extract was used to improve blood glucose levels of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) rats.1)

“An infusion of roasted okra seeds has long been consumed in Turkey for diabetes therapy.”


Okra nutrition facts - Dr. Axe

Source: Dr. Axe 1)

Okra Leaves are Edible

Okra leaves nutrition: contain trace amounts of vitamins A and K, and the minerals, iron and magnesium, in addition to phytonutrients. However the primary nutritional contribution of okra leaves appears to be the insoluble fiber, good for digestive health, and many cultures enjoy them for the zesty bitter flavor okra leaves add to soups and gumbos. 1)

Growing Okra

We were already fans of okra before knowing any of this information. Now that we do, all the more reason to find that sunny spot to grow some. So, how do we plant and cultivate this amazing crop?

Okra is one of the easiest plants we grow.

We provide a bed of well draining, organic rich soil, and allow enough space for the okra plants (which can grow up to 8 feet tall and span up to 3 feet). The stalks are quite sturdy but the roots tend to be delicate so be careful about cultivating around the base. We like to layer 4-6 inches of straw mulch once the plants begin to take off.

You’ll learn soon enough that once the pods start popping out, a daily survey is necessary to make sure you harvest them while they’re still small (3 inches is our ideal maximum size). Once the pods get bigger, they become tough and inedible and also cause the plant to slow down production. It’s surprising how quickly those okra pods can increase in size!

We like it every which way but raw, and at the end of the season always wish we’d grown more. So this year, we’ll be doubling our production and adding in a different variety. By the way, the Jing Orange is well suited to add ornament to any sunny garden spot.

Time to plant okra. Mixing up colors this season.

How to Cook Okra

There are many ways we prepare our okra. Our favorite way is just to steam them until slightly tender (they often turn intensely green), and then douse them with a little balsamic vinegar, or if you prefer, some Italian dressing, or butter, or Texas Pete’s hot sauce. The best! There’s also a fantastic Indian curry dish called Bhindi Masala which we prepare on special occasions.

A favorite addition to Southern-style soups and stews, okra is well known as a staple in gumbo, and of course, is a delight when breaded and fried. For a healthier version, try rolling in corn meal and oven baking or roasting instead of frying.

All kinds of recipes can be found on line and in many hard copy cookbooks. Pickled okra is easy to make for “putting up” and it can even be grilled alongside your favorite entree. Dried okra or okra chips make fine snacks.

Those of you who are fans of okra but have yet to grow it should know its taste quickly diminishes after harvest. What you buy at the store is tasteless compared to fresh okra out of the garden. So, if you have the space and fair soil conditions, why not grow some? Even some of the “never okra” crowd might reconsider if they try it fresh and cooked so the “ewwwy” stuff is minimized.

Garden fresh okra – image by Michael Hamori

Okra Recipes

Gardens All Facebook community member, Michael Hamori, shared his okra photo and yummy recipe. Super simple summer okra goodness!

Roasted corn and Okra


Preheat oven to 250℉

Quantities: use approximately equal amounts of each… vary according to your preferences and how much you have on hand.

  • Okra – sliced into 1/4-1/2″ slices (1 centimeter)
  • Corn on the cob – fresh, scraped corn from cob into a bowl
  • Red bell pepper – finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Seasoned pepper, to taste
  • Cumin (optional; good if you want a Mexican flare)
  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
  1. Toss all these ingredients together into a large bowl.
  2. Spread over a greased cookie sheet
  3. Bake on low heat at 250℉ until the corn starts to brown on top. So yummy.

Awesome! Thanks, Michael!


For a whole bushel of tasty okra recipes, you might visit 1)

Our favorites okra recipes include: Spicy Indian Okra – called Kurkuri Bhindi, and Roasted Okra.

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