Florida Heritage Foods


Common name


Scientific Name

Abelmoschus esculentus

Other Common Names

Gumbo (Wolof, West Africa), ladyfingers (English), 秋葵, 羊角豆 (yáng jiǎo dòu, Mandarin), भिंडी (Bhindi, Hindi), Bamia (Swahili and Arabic), Quingombó (Spanish)
Okra is an ancient African crop that made its way to the Americas through the enslavement of African people. Highly nutritious and delicious, Okra became a staple food in southern American cuisine, and it remains a key ingredient in African-American ‘Soul Food’ cooking today. Easy to grow, Okra is enjoyed throughout the world in soups and stews, fried, baked, and sauteed.

Historical Significance

okra historical image
‘Vendor selling homegrown okra at the City Curb Market on Gaines St. in Tallahassee.(1965) Florida Department of State Archives http://fpc.dos.state.fl.us/TD/TD02465.jpg


Okra has been in cultivation throughout Africa and Asia for thousands of years. It made its way to the Americas through the enslavement of African people. According to folk history, okra was such an important food source that enslaved Africans smuggled okra into the Americas by sowing seeds into their clothes and hair. Since the crop grows well in hot weather and poor soil during drought conditions, it quickly became a staple food crop throughout the southern U.S. Thomas Jefferson noted that it was a well-established crop in Virginia in 1781, and it was abundant in Florida by 1800. Today, okra is grown and consumed throughout much of the world’s tropical and temperate regions, especially Asia and North America.

Cultural Significance

Okra is a key ingredient in many West African and Southeast Asian dishes where the leaves and seed pods are commonly used in soups and stews, such as gumbo in Louisiana cajun cuisine which is African in origin. Throughout the Caribbean, okra is stewed in a dish called quimbombó guisado in Cuba and Puerto Rico and molondrón in the Dominican Republic. Throughout Asia, the pods are slides and added to spicy stir-fry dishes. In the Southern United States, particularly in African-American soul food cuisine, okra is a common side dish served stewed, sauteed, and fried.
okra - photo by Vilma
White House Twitter post 'Part of today's harvest from the @WhiteHouse Kitchen Garden: okra, squash, eggplant, cucumber, tomatillos & more!' pic.twitter.com/2ombbiEpyf. Office of the First Lady.
"Fruit and Vegetable Packs." poster with Okra (1917) States Relations Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.

Cooking With Okra

Nutritional Significance

Okra is rich in fiber, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and vitamin B6
Okra Plant Card Photo
Okra Plant Card Photo

Growing Tips

Okra is a hardy plant resistant to drought, excessive rain, and poor soil conditions. It is frost-sensitive, however, and seeds or transplants should be planted outside in the ground after the last frost (April to September.) sow seeds a few inches deep and one foot apart and harvest the pods June through October. Soaking the seeds for several hours just before planting should increase germination rates. (UF/IFAS). Harvest daily since pods will grow significantly throughout the day and turn woody quickly. To plan, a heritage garden, download the ‘Planning a Florida Heritage Garden (PDF).’