Homemade File Powder

by Daisy

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I grew up with an abundance of sassafras trees all around me. I don’t know how I knew the leaves were edible because I have eaten them for as long as I can remember. Someone must have told me they were okay to eat, because I doubt I taste-tested all the foliage in our yard. (???)

Not only was I always aware of their edibility, I was aware of their mucilagininity (mucilaginousness?) Bear with me. I knew that when you pounded a bunch of fresh sassafras leaves you got a wonderfully slimy mess that was an excellent play medium and pleasantly fragrant, to boot.

What I didn’t know was that grown-up folks dried sassafras leaves, powdered them, and cooked with them to make real (not play) food. And I didn’t know they called it File Powder.

I know now. You can see how I make file powder in the following photos:

Step 1: Gather some sassafras leaves.
Sassafras leaves can be mitten-shaped (bilobed), unlobed, and tri-lobed, an unusual characteristic. My favorite is the mitten-shaped leaf.

Step 2: Spread the leaves out and let them dry. This will take several days.

Step 3: Remove the stems. They just tear out.

Here they are ready to be torn up and ground in the coffee grinder:

Step 4: Rip the leaves into small pieces and pack a clean electric coffee grinder as full as you can get it (it grinds better with enough leaves in there to get some traction.) Grind until the leaves are reduced to a powder. I find it helps to hold the grinder and sort of shake it a little as it grinds.

Step 5: Sift the resulting powder in a fine sieve to remove the tough bits and pieces.

This amount of leaves (less than an ounce) produced a small amount of file powder (well, duh). This was a good amount for me to use for this tutorial, but make as much or as little as you want.

Now make some File Gumbo.

Tags: , , file powder, home preserving

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Claire September 2, 2008 at 7:26 pm

I really enjoy reading your blog, I love anything to do with old fashioned tips and ways, preserving general homesteading etc so I have added you to my favourite sites on my blog. Look forward to reading your future posts!
Claire 🙂

Dawnita Wilson August 3, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Where can i find file’ power in pa

Tomato Lady August 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Dawnita–You can order it from here:
I haven’t tried this one personally but at $1.69 . . .

pam thompson January 18, 2010 at 9:10 pm

My grandmother used to make file powder. They only picked certain leaves, on a certain day of the year (March 17) they then had to dry on their own for a certain number of days. After all of the leaves were ground by hand, the powder was then put into a brown bottle and cap was put in place. The brown bottles kept the freshness, evidently the light can be damaging.

Tomato Lady January 19, 2010 at 8:58 am

pam thompson–I love this story! What a neat tradition. Thank you for sharing it. I think I know what I’m doing March 17th this year . . .

mr shawn February 19, 2013 at 9:45 am

Hmmm… where do you live that sassafras have leaves in March? I’m in NYS and we have tons of sassafras, but of course, no leaves at that time.

Daisy February 19, 2013 at 10:11 am

mr shawn–This was posted in August of 2010. Plenty of leaves then. We are in zone 8.

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