Okra Varieties and Uses

August 17, 2006

The previous entry discussed growing okra in the home garden, today’s post takes a look at a few great okra varieties for the home gardener, along with ideas for preparing and cooking these delicious home grown pods.

Unique Okra Varieties for the Home Garden

If you enjoy growing heirloom vegetables, planting okra will provide many opportunities to grow more than just the routine Clemson Spineless types of okra. Other interesting okra varieties include the following:

  • Red Burgundy – Four foot tall plants with six to eight inch maroon pods, some of the color even extends into the plant’s leaves and stems.
  • Silver Queen Okra – Tall six foot plants produce tender pale whitish-green pods.
  • Star of David – This Israeli heirloom grows pods that have a very unique shape and strong flavor from okra plants reaching up to seven feet.
  • Alabama Red – A heirloom okra originating from the state of Alabama produces unusual fat red pods.
  • Cow Horn – This giant okra variety can grow eight feet tall and supply the cook with large yields of slender pods reaching ten inches in length without becoming woody.
  • Louisiana Short – A prolific producer of tasty and extremely plump six-inch pods.
  • Hill Country Heirloom Red – This okra variety is a Texas heirloom with attractive reddish-green pods.
  • Burmese Okra – An early yielder, this heirloom from Burma will continue producing pods for the kitchen until fall frosts arrive.
  • Jade – High yields of early maturing dark green okra pods on four foot tall plants.
  • Emerald – Early, unique smooth-round pods, this may be the okra variety that my grandfather grew years ago in his Southern Maryland garden.

Preparing and Cooking Home Grown Okra

Okra is shunned by some because of the slimy nature of the cut pods after they are cooked. While this mucilaginous character has been linked to some of the health promoting properties of this nutritious vegetable, if that’s prevented you from enjoying okra you’ll be happy to discover that there are ways to prepare it that reduce or eliminate that slimy consistency.

Cooking the smaller pods whole, eliminates the need for any cutting and will automatically reduce the gelatinous effect in any recipe. Adding small quantities of cut okra pods to soups or stews containing other vegetables and liquids will also reduce the unpleasant stickiness, as will the acid from vinegar that is added to a dish during preparation.

For the youngest and smallest tender pods you can skip the cooking altogether. The raw pods can be enjoyed as finger food, or can be cut into pieces and tossed into a fresh vegetable salad.

Gumbo, a Classic Recipe Featuring Okra

Okra is one of the essential ingredients that set gumbo apart from an ordinary pot of soup and is a must have for cooking any authentic gumbo recipe. Another favorite southern okra recipe is to slice the pods crosswise into sections which are then breaded and deep fried.

For a much healthier alternative steam or boil the pods, or prepare stews, soups, and casseroles including okra with a variety of other fresh vegetables. Okra is especially good when cooked along with tomatoes or tomato sauces, which will also serve to eliminate any slimy aftereffects.

If you had given up on okra maybe it’s time to give it another try. Regardless of how you choose to prepare them, growing a selection of okra varieties in the home garden will supply you with plenty of fresh pods throughout the gardening season to include in some of your favorite recipes.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • Bill Bridges

    Hi, Kenny, just wanted to let you know I have been visiting the site. Obviously too late for me to do anything this year, but I am gearing up for next year.

  • Gary S. Brackett, Jr.

    Hey!!! Just found your website after doing some gardening and seed research for the upcoming 2007 Summer growing season. I am seriously fascinated by the idea of growing red okra (red burgundy) as well as giant yet tender okray pods (cowhorn). CANT WAIT!!! Okra definitely a favorite vegetable, and Gumbo freezes exceptionally well (just had some on this chilly january night—tastes garden fresh!!!). Happy Gardening to you and yours!!!

    January 8, 2007

  • Jesse Molina

    Where can I buy, borrow or steal seeds of the Star of David giant okra? I live on the northeast side of San Antoni, TX. Failin that , where can I get any giant okra seeds ….Please Help…..Jesse Molina, SA, TX

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Jesse, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds carries Star of David and a large variety of other unusual and hard to find varieties of okra seeds.

  • Snappybob

    If I grow heirloom okra can I just let some of the pods dry out and then collect the seed or is there a special proceedure for saving okra seed?

  • Kenny Point

    Sure you can save the seeds of your okra plants by letting the pods mature and dry out. Different varieties of okra can cross pollinate though, so if you grow more than one kind of heirloom okra you’ll need to figure out a method to isolate the blossoms if you want to keep the seed true to type.

  • We’ve had great luck with Alabama Red Okra in our garden in Tennessee. It is beautiful and grows well in poor soil conditions.

    Here is our crop: Alabama Red Okra

  • Laura

    Wondering if there is a variety that grows on vines – my Mom got some from Tennesee with 10 ribs – 8-10 inch long but still tender – the giver said grown on vines not stalks. Any info is appreciated.

  • Kenny Point

    Laura, I’ve heard of okra varieties that yield long pods on seven or eight foot tall plants, but I have never heard of an okra variety that produces vines rather than stalks.

  • Hi Jessie Molina, Reimer Seeds (P.O. Box 236; Mount Holly, N.C. 28120-0236) carries Star of David okra seeds and many other okra varieties. I just bought 2 pkgs. of Star of David okra on 2/13/2008. [$2.50 per package plus shipping ($5.75)]

  • What other products can we derive from okras aside from oils?? reply pls.. the answer is super needed. Please just email to my address then that’s ok! Thanks a lot.

  • Tina

    I live in Southern MD too!! This is the first year of my garden and I sowed the okra from seed. When everything else started growing in May, the okra seeds did nothing. So I bought some okra seedlings from a farm (dont know the variety)and they are growing great. Now my seeds sprouted and I have Okra plants everywhere. I might have better success if I use the variety your Grandfather grew. Do you know where I could buy your Grandfather’s Southern MD variety?

  • Kenny Point

    Sorry Tina, but unfortunately I have no idea of the identity of the okra that my grandfather used to grow in Southern MD… I really wish that I did know what it was. If you want to try some different okra varieties check out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or a group such as the Seed Savers Organization.

  • Beth

    Hey, thought I’d throw my two cents in here…on Laura’s question. What she’s probly talking about are Angle Gourds, which are called vine okra in my area. You can find a good selection of them thru Baker Creek at http://www.rareseeds.com, we LOVE them.
    Love your site! I will be here ALOT. You did forget to mention pickled okra tho… :).

  • todd

    Good afternoon. I would like to know which species of okra would be recommended for south-west Florida growing. As you know, sandy soil great for citrus….bad for most other. The okra previously planted only made about 3 foot high with moderate pod production.

  • Rebecca

    Hello–I would like to grow okra on my balcony in a container. How deep should the container be?

  • Kenny Point

    Rebecca, I would use a container that was at least six inches deep for growing okra, but a container that is eight to ten inches deep would be even better. Also, I would stick with the dwarf or smaller varieties of okra if they are going to be raised in a container.

  • Pat Heah

    I live in Malaysia which has hot and humid weather suitable for growing okra. where can I buy seeds to the okra you have mentioned?

  • Deb

    Last year I made pickled okra using Alton Brown’s recipe. It was VERY easy. I canned in September for Christmas presents. We didn’t have ANY left a Christmas time.

  • Louise

    Thanks for the great website, there are so many interesting nuggets here.

  • kendall

    Why do you not mention clemson spineless in your list of okra varieties, it is fairly common in East Tennessee.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Kendall, no reason other than that I often try to share some of the more uncommon varieties that are worthy of attention. I actually like the Clemson Spineless okra variety and believe that I have some growing in the garden this summer.

  • Kim

    Great website. When planning my new garden (replacing part of the front lawn) here in south central PA, I planted okra on a whim. After a very slow start, it is growing like crazy and dad is looking forward to our traditional Christmas gumbo with home-grown okra. Will the okra freeze okay?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Kim, okra will freeze just fine. Here’s a link to some good instructions about freezing garden fresh okra pods.

  • Colleen

    What a great site!
    I planted Okra for the first time (spineless Clemson). Seed company says they’ll grow to 4-feet. Planted them in big deep containers with at least a foot of space above the soil, so the containers will support the first foot of the plants. Do I need to add some sort of structural support, or will the plants hold themselves up?

  • Kenny Point

    Thanks Colleen, if the containers are deep enough for the okra plants to produce good root growth the plants should be able to support themselves. Okra grows upright and has a strong central stalk that usually does fine without additional support even for the tall varieties that rise over ten feet high. Your four footers should be fine, but you can always add a simple stake for insurance.

  • pancha

    hi I think I also have okra growing in my back yard in ontario but seems like okras are really tiny and already start going hard meanning turning stick-ky what shall I do do I pick and eat now it is really like very tiny but if I did not it sure will turn into stick in few days.

  • sue

    We were given okra seeds with pods that are have deep groves, the pods are light green and have a wonderful taste. Does anyone know the name. The man who gave us the seeds said his family had planted and saved these seeds for over 50 years and he did not know what it was called. We planted it along with our regular okra – hope it does not cross pollinate. We love okra. We currently have over 30 bags in the freeze to carry us through the winter.

  • Hi Kenny,

    I bought a quart of pickled okra at a farmer’s market when visiting Charleston, SC, last fall. It was INCREDIBLE! The woman selling it offered me a sample and I was hooked. I even wound up using the leftover juice in martinis. I didn’t realize okra was possible in NE Pennsylvania, now I’m already moving things around on my garden plan for this year to try to fit it–is okra possible in a container, maybe one of the shorter plants (maybe Jade variety)? This site gets better every time I visit it. Thank you!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Chris, sure okra can be grown in containers and the dwarf varieties would work the best. I prefer growing okra in the garden if possible because it’s good to have at least a dozen plants to get a useful yield and harvest enough okra pods at one time to use in the kitchen.

  • I think the best way to prepare OKRA is to bake it.
    I didn’t see this option mentioned anywhere in this post.
    Here’s a link to this most delicious option.
    Great Blog Kenny!

  • Ben Daniels

    Hey just have a question hoping someone might answer. I am looking fgor some okra seed. I remember years ago my dad planted orka that was climbing and had very long pods. Would you happen to know what they might call it and if I could get it?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Ben, I have never heard of a climbing okra variety but that is something that I would be interested in also if such a plant exists.

  • Andy John

    Ben, the climbing okra was mentioned earlier by Laura; it is a variety of edible goard also called Chinese Okra. I grow it from seeds a woman has grown for more than 20 years in her garden. It is like a giant okra and is good to eat. AJ

  • KenPenn

    It is mid-August in Central Maryland. My green and red okra are blooming and forming delicious pods, which I have harvested. However, I am having a problem with the okra leaves – they continue to turn brown, curl and drop off from the main stems. I can’t find anything eating the leaves. The okra seeds were planted where I planted tomatoes last year. Does anyone have some thoughts on why my okra leaves keep dropping off at the main stem? I am concerned my okra plants will die before their time. Thanks, KenPenn


    Hi.I am from Kenya in Africa; i like okra very much and do plant them. I am looking for market, any one willing to be supplied with some can reach me via e-mail.

  • Nathan

    In response to pancha, who wrote: “seems like okras are really tiny and already start going hard meanning turning stick-ky”
    I’ve never seen the pods rot, but I have seen the flowers not fall off the plant when they should and turn into a rotten goo, but it hasn’t affected the pod themselves. Do you water your plants a lot? You might be over-watering them; if so I’d cut back a bit, and be careful to just get the base of the plants and not get any water on the leaves or pods. You might also have a fungus; if you think you do I’d try some sort of mild food-safe citrus derivative; though I’ve never needed it on okra I spray a mixture of water and a few drops of grapefruit seed extract on my pole-beans if they get a fungus, which works pretty well so I’d imagine it would work on okra too.

    In response to KenPenn, who wrote: “I am having a problem with the okra leaves – they continue to turn brown, curl and drop off from the main stems.”
    I had this last year, researched it and figured out it’s root-rot; you’ll know for sure if when you pull a plant up the roots are all gnarled and knotted instead of smooth. I only lost a month or so at the end of the season but that was it. I read that the more you work the ground the weaker root-rot gets; but I don’t know it for sure.

    I really enjoyed the article, thanks.

  • Earl

    Jesse Molina, I have a variety that resembles Star Of David but when it was given to me I was told it was German Okra. But searching for a German Okra variety online comes up with a long slender pod type. Mine looks alot like Star of David but when sliced it is shaped like a 10 pointed star. I could probably spare a couple dozen seeds if someone mailed a self addressed stamped envelope to me.

    Snappy Bob if you want to save seed and you or your nearby neighbors have more than just one variety then the seeds could end up mixed and you might not get exactly what you expect. RELIGIOUSLY remove all blooms from all varieties but the one you are trying to save until you get some pure pods going, then mark them as non-pickers and leave them on the plant until they begin to split. Easy. There are other ways to do it which you may have to use if you want to save seeds from multiple varieties.

    Colleen, if your Okra plant falls over it is weak and should be murdered immediately… along with all of its pod-mates, Muahahahahaha!

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