Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees
Plant Family: Lauraceae
Sassafras is a sturdy tree found in the bayous of Louisiana. When the tree is young, its leaves are shaped like "mittens," sometimes with two "thumbs." As the tree matures, sometimes reaching a height of 100 feet (30 meters) and a trunk diameter of up to 6 feet (200 cm), the leaves grow more rounded, free of indentation. Cajun cuisine uses sassafras leaf to make file (FEE-lay), the seasoning and thickening agent for gumbo. The early Cajuns learned to use file' from the Choctaw Indians of the Gulf coast, who evidently used it to thicken soups.
The leaf is primarily used to thicken and to season. It should be simmered gently, and never boiled. For convenience it may be used as a tea.
Sassafras leaf is traditionally used as a thickening and flavoring agent in Gumbo, as well as other Cajun sauces and soups. The leaves have a lightly spicy and a pleasant aromatic scent and flavor. The fresh young leaves are used in salads.
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