By Contributor Stephanie Young

Okra is a versatile, tasty nutritional powerhouse

Ever since I started gardening two years ago, I have become completely enamored with okra. Yes, okra. Strange, I know.

I’d eaten it fried and stewed in South Carolina, but never fully embraced it until I grew it myself here in Kansas.

Since then I have eaten it raw, fried it, stewed it with peppers, squash, onions and tomatoes, sautéed it in olive oil, pickled it and put it in gumbo. I’ve seen the hearty plants flourish when others died from drought, heat, hail or cold. It has beautiful pale flowers and is just an all-around wonderful thing to grow. Even my picky 8-year-old has tried it willingly!

Turns out, it’s also really good for you.

I recently did a little research and here’s what I learned:

  • According to About.com, okra is low in calories and high in calcium, fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamin, vitamins A, B6, C, and zinc.
  • The Kansas City Star reports okra helps maintain blood sugar levels, regulate the body’s absorption in the small intestine, has probiotics, and both insoluble and soluble fiber.
  • Okra, in the same family as hibiscus, can get to 6 feet tall, according to an article at the University of Illinois Extension. It is also high in folic acid.
  • In this Florida Times Union article, a nutrition professor addresses myths and facts, including nutritional benefits, cooking, preparation and storage.
  • Wikipedia reports okra is also related to cotton and cocoa, and dubs it “among the most heat- and drought-tolerant vegetable species in the world.” It is also high in antioxidants.
  • According to health website Livestrong.com, okra is low-energy-dense and can help with weight loss or maintenance. It also helps lower cholesterol and reduces risk of heart disease.
  • Livestrong.com touts okra as a low glycemic index food, helpful to diabetics.
  • In 2011, the New York Time posted this roasted okra recipe by Martha Rose Shulman, author of “The Very Best Recipes for Health.”

Cut and ready to freeze!

If you’ve never tried okra, give it a chance! If you think you don’t like it, give it a second chance! It’s so versatile, with a little experimenting, I’ll bet you can find a way of cooking it that you enjoy.

Stephanie Young lives in a small Kansas town where she raises her 8-year-old boy, works with her husband in the family business and writes the blog, From the Burbs to the Boonies.