How to Make File Powder for Gumbo

File powder for gumbo. Leda Meredith

Creole gumbo recipes usually call for the addition of filé powder after the gumbo is cooked and the heat has just been turned off. The filé thickens and flavors the gumbo.

You can mail order filé powder from Louisiana or find it in gourmet foodie shops – or you can make your own (I’m kinda partial to the latter). Filé powder is the dried, powdered leaves of the sassafras tree. If you live in the Eastern U.S. or Canada, this native tree is growing wild near you, I promise (and even in city parks).


Difficulty: Average

Time Required: 1 week

Here's How:

  1. Find some sassafras trees. Sassafras has three leaf shapes usually present on one tree: a simple oval, a three-lobed maple leaf shape, and a two-lobed mitten shape. Unlike mulberry trees, which can also have all three leaf shapes, sassafras leaves have smooth margins with no teeth. Every part of the sassafras tree smells like root beer when crushed.

  2. Snip off the tips of a few branches with 5-10 leaves attached. Bundle these together with rubber bands and hang in a dry place away from direct heat or light. They should be crispy dry within a week.

  3. Strip the leaves off the branches. Process in a coffee or spice grinder until you've got a green,aromatic powder. Store in a tightly covered glass jar away from direct light or heat.

What You Need:

  • Sassafras leaves
  • Electric coffee or spice grinder