Okra is a member of the hibiscus family, which makes for a pleasant flowering addition to the vegetable garden. It is best to harvest immature pods in order to get the best flavor for soups, stews, pickling and canning. Okra tends to get very slimy when cooked, a trait that makes it unpopular for initiates, but it is very popular in the American South, where its sliminess helps to thicken traditional southern dishes like gumbo.
How to Grow Okra
Before you do anything, be sure you live in a climate warm enough to support okra plants. They love the heat and they can tolerate extended dry periods; if you live in the south, Dr. Jerry Parsons recommends June as the perfect time to plant. The warmer the temperature, the less time the plants take to emerge. One contributor complained to her online gardening forum, IDigMyGarden.com, that very few of her seedlings had taken root. She had soaked them and attempted to break the seed coats. It turns out that she was attempting to plant her seeds too early, and since okra likes hot weather, planting too early will kill its chances. Remember, it positively flourishes in Southern summers.
Prepping your okra seeds by breaking the seed hull in one way or another can be beneficial. Dr. Parsons recommends soaking the seeds for “several” hours before planting to enhance germination. Breaking the seed coat does help the seed germinate more quickly, and soaking it for up to 24 hours can do the job admirably. Dr. Parsons also reports that some gardeners will freeze their seeds and then immediately submerge them in lukewarm water to break the seed coats, but whichever method you choose, remember to plant okra seeds when the weather is warm.
Some Common Uses for Okra
In Africa and the Middle East, okra seeds are pressed for their oil, and the cooking oil they produce is as common as cooking oils in America, such as olive or canola oil. Ripe seeds can be roasted and ground as a substitute for coffee. Richard Jauron, from the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University, reports that okra is commonly pickled, canned or frozen.