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Okra leaves are harvested late summer and through the fall months.
A member of the Malvaceae family, okra leaves grow on the flowering annual plant known as okra, botanical name Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench.
Okra leaves are vibrant green in color with many varieties being covered on both sides with a thin layer of fine bristles. When mature, okra leaves resemble a maple leaf in shape and are made up of 3 to 7 lobes which continue to grow in size as the okra pods mature. Younger leaves are petite and more delicate in texture. When young their taste and texture resembles that of spinach, mature leaves will become tougher and develop a slightly acidic flavor.
Okra leaves contain vitamins A and C as well as calcium, protein and iron.
Okra leaves are most commonly prepared cooked as the heat softens the leaves and helps reduce their spiny texture. They can be used in lieu of spinach in recipes where greens are called for. They can be sautéed, stir-fried or used in soups stews and curries. Both the leaves and the pods can be dried then crushed or ground down into a powder to be used as a seasoning.
In Turkey and China okra leaves are used topically to reduce pain and swelling of bodily injuries.
Okra is believed to be native to Ethiopia, the eastern part of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and in the mountains of Eritrea; an area referred to by geo-botanists as the Abyssinian center and origin of cultivated plants. The leaves specifically have been noted as being used most frequently as a food source in West Africa and South East Asia. Okra grows around the globe in warm tropical and subtropical regions. Relatively easy to grow, okra is resistant to pests and can thrive in a variety of different growing conditions.