Versatile nutritional wonder


It may surprise you to know that the bhindi is related to the shoeflower! In fact the family Malvaceae considering that they all belong to the same gene pool. The flamboyant hibiscuses (shoeflower), the fluffy cotton plant, the sticky bhindi (okra or lady’s finger) are all relatives.
The bhindi plant is a hairy annual herd, which resembles the cotton plant. The stems and very ripe vegetables of this plant are used today for their fibrous value in the manufacture of both paper and textiles.
The bhindi originated in West Africa where it is known as noombo which means “sticky and mucilaginous.”  It was from Africa that the Americans introduced the “gumbo” as they first called it, to most other warm, tropical and subtropical areas of the world. The later and present name, “lady’s finger” is meant to be a literal reflection of the young, tender, pointed pod!
The name bhindi comes from the original Prakrit bhenda. The word was collectively and unanimously accepted in almost all the regional languages as bhindi, bende, bende kayi, vendekkayi. In terms of food, the bhindi is known as Hibiscus Esculentes or literally the edible hibiscus!
Generally camouflaged with spices and thoroughly drenched in oils and fats, the bhindi is rarely recognized for its own flavors and healthy qualities which have found it a place in Ayurveda and Unani literature.  Classified in Ayurveda as Vata ( vayu or wind) and kapha (earth), the bhindi essentially promotes unification and cohesiveness. At one end (kapha), it keeps the big molecules together in the intercellular spaces, playing a vital role in anabolism, and at the other (vata), it is directly responsible for movements of the intercellular currents.
Structurally the bhindi is rich in minerals (calcium, iron, iodine), vitamins (especially carotene and ascorbic acid) not to mention gum, pectin (another cementing material), starch and a great amount of mucilage. It is a combination of these factors that add to its fiber factors.
Fiber is meant to keep the digestive system running smoothly by elimination wastes regularly. Fiber is, in other words, nature’s own laxative. Though there are several sorts of fibers, there are two basic kinds: “sponge” or the soluble kind that works just like a sponge, absorbing water, fats and cholesterol and protecting the body; and the ‘broom’, moving quickly sweeping along substances that maybe harmful to the body. Fiber also helps to control appetite, thereby aiding weight loss.
The bhindi has both the sponge and broom kind of fibers. It absorbs fats and cholesterol and yet provides a full, satisfied, feeling after a meal. All these wondrous qualities of the bhindi however, are tampered with and even destroyed with the introduction of heat. The cooking methods prevalent today — over-cooked or deep fried, stuffed and deep fried again to get rid of the sticky mucilage — mutilate the bhindi. For the vegetable cooked thus is a far cry from the raw, green, crisp fiber that nature in her wisdom invented.
They are not only edible in that state, but are far alive and nutritious. Young, tender pods (green varieties are richer in chlorophyll than the yellow ones) can be served raw with a variety of sauces and chutneys.  As raw salads, dried snacks or as a meal with other vegetables, bhindis lend themselves to experimentation. In the traditional recipe for the dosas , for example, the urad dal that is used can be completely replaced by the cut stems of this vegetable which are normally discarded.
Traditional medicine provides a variety, of uses for all parts of this herb — both curative and preventive.
The seeds have been roasted and brewed (for beverages), they have been ground into chutneys, curries and baking flour; extracted for oil, used as decoction for colds, coughs, fevers and used as a diuretic, especially for urinary problems. The roots have been cooked and used as aphrodisiac or have been dried powdered to help soothe inflammations.
In short, the bhindi appears to have provided the healing circle with many uses – as a food, as a cooler ( a demulcent), an aphrodisiac, as a softener for hard abscesses (an emollient).
As a garden herd, the bhindi is a quick-growing, year-round crop. It can be easily grown in pots, yielding fruit in 40-60 days. We need to change our perception of the bhindi, both as a highly productive garden herb, and as a complete food.

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