The Initiative for Green Habitats represents a long term commitment towards providing solutions for the creation of Sustainable Built Environments. This blog attempts to provide an insight to our views, commentaries on our work, ideas that we are working on, and provoke thought where there are more questions than answers.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dr. Okra

Image reference:
I was trying to find out how Okra (American) or Bhendi (Hindi) came to be called Lady’s Finger. I still have not found a plausible answer despite checking various online dictionaries and thesauri along with the usual Google searches. Nonetheless, it was not an exercise in vain as I soon was reading articles, blogs, and research documents on this great vegetable; the fact that its mucilage is a turn-off for many people notwithstanding! Interestingly, Bhendi is of the Hibiscus Family (Scientific Name: Abelmoschus Esculentus) and is flowering plant which grows rather rapidly. It’s a perennial, and therefore, available round the year.

It has a controversial history and the story of how it spread around the world is quite fascinating. It seems to have originated in Africa and spread to Asia and the Middle East, and later to the Americas on-board slave ships. The Europeans don’t seem to have taken to it but most other peoples around the world welcomed the vegetable, with all its slickness, aboard their palate! I could not find the exact date of its arrival on the sub-continent shores but it seems to have made its way through the middle-east. Indians, of course, have adopted it in their diet and there is hardly a community which does not dish out a tasty Bhendi fare. For a quick glance at its anecdotal history check out this excellent piece by Vikram Doctor: (

The medical benefits range from stabilizing blood-sugar levels to helping prevent constipation and from binding excess cholesterol and toxins to being an excellent agent for feeding probiotic bacteria in the intestinal tract. It seems to even work on people who are feeling weak and exhausted or are suffering from depression. The specific medical ailments that it addresses are the following: Acid Reflux, Constipation, Asthma, Atherosclerosis (Heart Disease), Colo-rectal Cancer, Capillary fragility, Cataract, Cholesterol, High Homocysteine and Multiple Sclerosis. If such a wide range of afflictions can be taken on by the slender Okra, either in prevention or in cure, we have no choice but to salute it! For a more detailed discussion on the health benefits that are attributed to Bhendi, and the list is pretty exhaustive, please read this very informative blog by S. V. Saibaba ( who in turn, has based his facts primarily on the research of Ms. Sylvia Zook, Ph.D (Nutrition), University of Illinois, USA.

The injection of Okra in your diet can only do good for you, though the best benefits can be derived if eaten raw or in a slight cooked form. Okra has been glorified by many: American Food Writer, Robb Walsh, entitled an essay on Okra entitled “Pods of the Gods”. In praise of soul food Roy Blount Jr. wrote a famous song on Okra; the last two lines are at their bluesy best:

"You can have strip pokra
Give me a nice girl and a dish of okra"

So, the next time you are in the market and turn up your nose at the Lady’s Finger be very discreet. And, yes, I still have not discovered how the term Lady’s Finger was actually invented. If anyone out there does, please send me the information.