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 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.