Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
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Okra (American English: [ˈoʊkɹə], British English [ˈəʊkɹə], [ˈɒkɹə]), also known as lady’s finger, bhindi(India) and gumbo, is a flowering plant in the mallow (along with such species as cotton and cocoa) family valued for its edible green fruits. Its scientific name is Abelmoschus esculentus. The species is an annual or perennial, growing to 2 m tall. The leaves are 10–20 cm long and broad, palmately lobed with 5–7 lobes. The flowers are 4–8 cm diameter, with five white to yellow petals, often with a red or purple spot at the base of each petal. The fruit is a capsule up to 18 cm long in maximum, containing numerous seeds.
The name “okra” is of West African origin and is cognate with “ọ́kụ̀rụ̀” in Igbo, a language spoken in Nigeria. It is called “Ila” in Yoruba Language (Western Nigeria). In various Bantu languages, okra is called “kingombo” or a variant thereof, and this is the origin of its name in Portuguese, Spanish and French. The Arabic “bāmyah” بامية is the basis of the names in the Middle East, the Balkans, Turkey, North Africa and Russia. In Southern Asia, its name is usually a variant of “bhindi”. In Vietnamese, it is dau bap.
Okra is occasionally referred to by an early, now incorrect synonym, Hibiscus esculentus L. The species apparently originated in the Ethiopian Highlands, though the manner of distribution from there is undocumented. The Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries used the Arab word for the plant, suggesting that it had come from the east. The plant may thus have been taken across the Red Sea or the Bab-el-Mandeb strait to the Arabian Peninsula, rather than north across the Sahara. One of the earliest accounts is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216, who described the plant under cultivation by the locals who ate the tender, young pods with meal.
From Arabia, the plant spread around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and eastward. The lack of a word for okra in the ancient languages of India suggests that it arrived there after the beginning of the Common Era. The plant was introduced to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade by 1658, when its presence was recorded in Brazil. It was further documented in Suriname in 1686. Okra may have been introduced to the southeastern North America in the early 18th century and gradually spread. It was being grown as far north as Philadelphia by 1748, while Thomas Jefferson noted that it was well established in Virginia by 1781. It was commonplace throughout the southern United States by 1800 and the first mention of different cultivars was in 1806.
Abelmoschus esculentus is cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world for its fibrous fruits or pods containing round, white seeds. The fruits are harvested when immature and eaten as a vegetable.