Abelmoschus esculentus [A. esculentus] (L.) Moench. is the scientific botanical name of the plant. It is one of the most important vegetables widely grown in Nigeria for its tender fruits and young leaves and is distributed throughout Africa, Asia, Southern Europe, and America.
The plant has a wide range of medicinal values and has been used to treat many diseases. A literature search reveals that the plant has been associated with antidiabetic, hypolipidemic, neuroprotective, and in vitro antioxidant properties.
The pods contain healthy amounts of vitamin A, and flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta carotenes, xanthin and lutein and is one of the green vegetables with high levels of these anti-oxidants.
Fresh pods are a natural source of folates; providing about 22% of RDA per 100 g. Consumption of foods rich in folates, especially during the pre-conception period helps decrease the incidence of neural tube defects in offspring.
The gumbo pods are also an excellent source of anti-oxidant vitamin, vitamin-C, providing about 36% of daily-recommended levels. Research suggests that consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the body develop immunity against infectious agents, reduce episodes of cold and cough and protect the body from harmful free radicals.
The veggies are rich in B-complex group of vitamins like niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid. The pods also contain good amounts of vitamin K. Vitamin K is a co-factor for blood clotting enzymes and is required for strengthening of bones.
The pods are an also good source of many important minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium.
Two recent studies have highlighted the anti-cancer effects of the plant where significant growth inhibition (63%) of human breast cancer cells and cell death (72%) was the result. The plant also induced expression of a number of genes that promote breast cancer cell death including caspase-3, caspase-9, and p21 genes. The study authors suggest that the plant has a potential therapeutic benefit to combat breast cancer.
Another study confirmed that both the Ocra fruit seed and peel powders have equal and significant impact on diabetes, substantially lowering the risk through their antioxidant properties.
Monte LG1, Santi-Gadelha T, Reis LB, Braganhol E, Prietsch RF, Dellagostin OA, E Lacerda RR, Gadelha CA, Conceição FR, Pinto LS.Lectin of Abelmoschus esculentus (okra) promotes selective antitumor effects in human breast cancer cells.Biotechnol Lett. 2013 Oct 16.
Vijayakumar Sabitha, Subramaniam Ramachandran, Koikaramparambil Robert Naveen,and Kaliyamoorthy Panneerselvam. Investigation of in vivo antioxidant property of Abelmoschus esculentus (L) moench. fruit seed and peel powders in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012 Oct-Dec; 3(4): 188–193.