Okra, a flowering plant that is native to Africa but can be grown in any warm environment, produces edible seed pods similar to pea pods. Okra and okra leaves are used in food to enhance flavor, due to their slightly bitter taste, but are also used for their potential health benefits. Okra leaves are a common ingredient in southern-style dishes such as gumbo and various soups, but can also be found in tea and in the form of a powdered extract sold as a nutritional supplement. If you consume okra leaves or okra leaf extract for health, talk to your doctor first to make sure it is right for you.
Video of the Day
While the okra seed pods contain high amounts of nutrients, including carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, the primary constituent of okra leaves is insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber cannot be broken down and digested by your body. Instead, fiber helps promote gastrointestinal and digestive health as well as the normal passage of stool. Fiber also provides a positive environment in your colon and small intestine to allow beneficial bacteria to grow, which helps your body break down and absorb nutrients.
Okra leaves contain trace amounts of vitamins A and K. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, or ODS, vitamin A is essential for bone growth, reproduction, cell division, eye health and immune system function. MedlinePlus, a website run by the National Library of Medicine, reports that vitamin K is essential to your body's ability to form blood clots in response to injury. Vitamin K is also necessary for bone strength, especially in older populations.
Okra leaves contain trace amounts of minerals and phytonutrients such as iron and magnesium. Iron is important for the formation of proteins used to make blood cells and hemoglobin, the component of your red blood cells that carries oxygen. Magnesium is important for many enzymatic activities throughout the body and contributes to health of the immune system, the central nervous system and bones.
Although okra leaves don't contain very high amounts of vitamins and minerals, they can be used to provide extra fiber in your diet and enhance the flavor of foods and beverages. Too much okra can cause gastrointestinal distress and constipation, which is usually attributed to the high fiber content of okra leaves. If you suffer from intestinal disorders like diverticulitis or colon cancer, talk with your doctor about your daily fiber needs.