Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the May 19, 2007 Newsletter, Issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve Headquarters in Jalpan, Querétaro, MÉXICO
COW OKRA

Another tree at its peak of producing edible pod-fruits right now can be seen below:

Cow Okra, PARMENTIERA ACULEATA

Notice how those nine-inch-long pods, instead of dangling from branches, can grow right off the trunks, like cacao fruits. In Belize I learned to call the fruit and the medium-size tree producing them Cow Okra. It's PARMENTIERA ACULEATA, called Chote around here, but Cuajilote in much of the rest of Mexico. It's a member of the Bignonia Family, along with North America's Trumpet Creeper and Catalpas. The leaves are compound 3- or 5-foliate, with a short, stiff spine at the base of each petiole.

In my "Plantas Medicinales de México" I read that in the Yucatan an infusion made from the roots is used to control diabetes. Since I have hypoglycemia, which also is a problem with the blood-sugar level, I thought maybe I could experiment with eating the fruits. Also, elsewhere I learned that the Aztecs used the plant for renal diseases, indigestion, colds, and ear infections. Supposedly each day they drank tea made from 50 grams of leaves in one liter of water. For ear infections they soaked a cotton ball in this mixture and inserted it into the ear.

At http://trophort.com/003/164/003164018.html you can review an abstract of a scientific paper describing how chloroform extracts from Cow Okra reduced blood glucose levels in diabetic mice by 44%, and 30% in normal mice.

Tasting some raw fruits Don Gonzalo brought me I found their taste to be not bad, even without the sugar the Don suggested I sprinkle on them. Their rinds are too tough and fibrous to eat but inside they have the texture of cucumbers, and are filled with many small seeds that are easy enough to ignore and swallow. My friend Pancho told me that the best way to prepare the pods was to roast them in an oven, covering them with ashes and embers. As they bake they soften, sweeten, and get juicier. He says that people used to eat Cow Okra all the time but now they don't bother, the taste being good but just not having the pizzazz people expect nowadays.

I baked several in my solar oven, not really expecting to care much about them. However, as soon as the pot's top came off and a rich, molasses aroma poured out I knew I was onto something good. To me the gummy flesh tasted like campfire-baked plantains (those really big bananas), though others who gathered around wanting a taste said it was more like sweet potatoes, and the pods were so sweet and gooey that I was accused of packing them in brown sugar, or piloncillo. They were delicious, but fibrous; I had to pick fibers from my teeth for hours afterwards.

What a marvelous thing this Cow Okra is, and what a treat that I got to introduce it to some young Mexicans who'd never even noticed it growing along their streets and at the ranchos of their country cousins.

Cow Okra is native to Mexico and Guatemala.