Related entry: Althaea (U. S. P.)—Althaea
The unripe fruit of the Hibiscus esculentus, Linné (Abelmoschus esculentus of Wight and Arnott).
COMMON NAMES: Okra, Gombo, Bendee.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 36.
Botanical Source.—This plant is an herbaceous annual, with a stem somewhat woody at the base, attaining a height of from 3 to 6 feet, and being 3 or 4 inches thick, bearing alternate, serrate leaves of 3 varieties, angular, palmate, and subdigitate. The flowers are solitary, large, and showy; of a pale yellow, tinged at the base a dark crimson. The herbaceous portions of the plant are clothed with sharp bristles, and often bear purplish spots.
Description.—The gombo fruit is a pentagonal, narrow, cylindrical capsule, from 2 to 12 inches long, tapering at the base, and about I inch in diameter. It is often curved, and is covered with hairs, especially along the ridges. The pods contain several roundish or kidney-shaped smooth seeds in each of the several cells.
History.—Okra was well-known to the Spanish Moors and Persians, and as early as 1216 was described by a native Sevillian botanist, Abul-Abbas-el-Nebate, who states that the young and tender fruit was eaten with meat by the people of Egypt, who also employed it medicinally for its emollient properties (Pharmacographia). The Indian Pharmacopoeia has an official decoction of the immature capsules to be employed as a demulcent diuretic in catarrhal affections of the urinary tract, as gonorrhoea, and in dysuria, and ardor urinae. Okra is indigenous to tropical Africa, where the natives call it bameea, and to the West Indies, and is cultivated throughout the tropical and subtropical regions. It is raised on a large scale near Constantinople, where the fruit is employed on account of its demulcent properties. The fiber of the bark is used in the arts to make paper and ropes. Its fruit is valued chiefly, and especially in the southern states, for a mucilaginous substance, gombine (Landrin, Jahresb. der Pharm., 1874, p. 172), which it imparts to soups, being often used in combination with tomatoes. It is also used for pickles. According to Porcher, the parched seeds are used by the negroes of South Carolina as a substitute for coffee.
Action and Medical Uses.—Okra is demulcent, mucilaginous, and the leaves are said to make an excellent emollient cataplasm. The seeds of the H. Abelmoschus (see below) were formerly considered a stomachic stimulant, antispasmodic, and nervine, but are now employed chiefly by the perfumer.
Related Species.—Hibiscus Abelmoschus, Linné. (Abelmoschus moschatus, Moench). An evergreen tree, introduced into tropical America, but indigenous to Egypt and southern Asia. The seeds, known as grana moschata, have a musk-like odor, and are warm and spicy to the taste. The odor resides in the testa of the seeds, and is more noticeable if the seeds be heated or rubbed. According to Ainslie, the seeds are used by the Arabs to impart a pleasant flavor to their coffee. They are also used to adulterate musk and employed in the making of perfumes. In Bombay they are used to protect woolens from the ravages of the moth, and rubbed to a paste with milk, employed to cure the itch (Dymock, Mat. Med. of Western India).