Filé Powder (Gumbo Filé)

Filé powder or gumbo filé is a spice made from the dried and ground leaves of Sassafras albidum, a species of tree in the family Lauraceae. Sassafras albidum is native to eastern North America, from southern Maine and southern Ontario west to Iowa, and south to central Florida and eastern Texas. It is used in the making of some types of gumbo, a Creole and Cajun soup/stew. It is sprinkled sparingly over gumbo as a seasoning and a thickening agent, providing a distinctive flavor and texture.

Sassafras albidum, 15-20 m tall, is a medium-sized deciduous tree, with a trunk up to 60 cm in diameter, and a crown with many slender branches. The leaves are alternate, green to yellow-green, ovate or obovate, 1016 cm long and 510 cm broad with a short, slender, slightly grooved petiole. The leaves come in three different shapes, three-lobed, two-lobed, and unlobed elliptical, all can be on the same branch. In early spring, shortly before the leaves appear, yellow to greenish-yellow flowers with five or six tepals are produced in loose, drooping, few-flowered racemes up to 5 cm long.

Sassafras albidum is dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate trees. Pollination is by insects. The dark blue-black fruit is borne on a red fleshy club-shaped pedicel 2 cm long, and contains a single seed. The fruit ripes in late summer, with the seed is dispersed by the birds. All parts of the plant are aromatic and spicy. The roots of Sassafras albidum are thick and fleshy, and frequently produce root sprouts which can develop into new trees. Seedlings will tolerate shade, but saplings and older trees demand full sunlight for good growth; The growth of plant is rapid, particularly with root sprouts. Root sprouts often result in dense thickets.

Sassafras oil is an essential oil distilled from the root bark or the fruit. The essential oil is used as a fragrance in perfumes and soaps, food (sassafras tea and candy flavoring) and for aromatherapy. The smell of the oil is an excellent repellent for mosquitoes and other insects, which makes it a nice garden plants.

Unlike sassafras roots, sassafras leaves do not contain a detectable amount of safrole. Safrole is toxic to the liver and somewhat carcinogenic.

Gumbo Z'Herbes with Louisiana Hot Sauce and File PowderGumbo Z'Herbes with Louisiana Hot Sauce and File Powder
Author: Jperlow (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

Sassafras albidumSassafras albidum
Author: Pymouss (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

A young Sassafras albidum plant with all three major lobe variationsA young Sassafras albidum plant with all three major lobe variations
Author: Rlevse (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

Sassafras albidum foliage during autumnSassafras albidum foliage during autumn
Author: Berean Hunter (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

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