Homemade File’

Want to make your own file’?  My guess is that most, if not all of you got up this morning hoping I would post about how to make file’! 🙂

What’s file?  It’s what us Louisiana folk put in our gumbo.  It’s powdered leaves from the sassafras tree.  What you may not know is that the world’s largest sassafras tree is in Owensboro, KY, which is where we lived nine years before moving to MO in 2007.  Even Wikipedia says the largest tree is in Owensboro.You can see a picture of it here.  I think the picture was taken in the tree’s better days.  Recently I heard it’s taken a hit from the hurricane that came through and recent ice storms.

Start with leaves from the sassafras tree.  Any sassafras tree will do . . doesn’t have to be leaves from the largest tree in the world!  When we lived in Owensboro, we had several trees in our yard.  They grow kinda wild . . almost a nuisance tree.  But we moved away and I haven’t found a sassafras tree around here. This past winter I ran out of homemade file and had to buy some at the store.  You can imagine the complaints I got from my family.

I asked my friend, Becky, who lives in Owensboro, if she would gather me some leaves, dry them and send them to me.  I was afraid if she sent them fresh off the tree, they’d mold or otherwise have problems while making the trip here via the U. S. Mail.  She did.  She sent me a ziplock bag full of dried sassafras leaves.  Some say it’s best to harvest the leaves in the fall right before they turn brown.  I think they have a stronger flavor if harvested in the spring.  I believe it’s more common to harvest the leaves in the fall because people begin eating gumbo in the fall and make the file’ fresh when it’s closer to time for eating it.  I actually would make it any time I needed it if there were leaves on the tree but my preference is spring leaves.


Strip out the hard veins.  You don’t have to be real particular because we’re going to sift the powder and who cares about a bit of stem . . fiber, right?


Stick all the leaves in the food processor.  You could also use the blender or a mortar & pestle. Grind it till you get it the consistency desired.  We prefer ours to look more like finely ground leaves than powder.


Sift it through whatever size mesh you desire.


Store in airtight jars.  When it gets closer to time for gumbo (fall/winter), I’ll transfer some of this to a spice jar with a shaker top.  Can you see a bit of difference in fresh ground and storebought?




  1. 1

    Gwynette says

    Yum, Yum, Judy!! We have sassafras trees growing on our place here in NW Arkansas. Mother-in-law uses the roots to make sassafras tea, which tastes a little like root beer. Remember in the old western movies when the cow hands would belly up to the bar and at least one one would ask for a ‘sassperillie’ (sassperilla)?? Hmmm, wonder if he was asking for a root beer? Thanks for the instructions. Being from Louisiana, I miss finding file powder on the spice shelves in the stores.

  2. 2


    I didn’t even know regular chef’s could make homemade file’. I love it in my cajun gumbo. Looks like I need to buy a food processor! I received the package in the mail too, thanks.

  3. 3

    Judy in Michigan says

    How do you pronounce file’ ? Does it rhyme with “smile”? I remember Sassafras from my girl scout days, doesn’t it have 5 different shaped leaves? or am I confusing my imaginary world with the real world??? (hee-hee)

  4. 4


    Jambalaya, crawfish pie, file’ gumbo ……….

    Guess I never knew that sassafras was a tree; thought it was a bush. It looks wonderful. I can smell iti from here!

    It’s pronounced “fee-lay” – or at least that’s the way Cajuns pronounce it!

  5. 6


    Judy, it grows wild all over Missouri, and is considered a nuisance “weed” tree. Look around for any pasture that hasn’t been mowed in a year or so, and 90% of the small scrub growing on it will be sassafras.

    I had no idea file was made from sassafras leaves!

  6. 7

    Pam says

    I don’t ever recall seeing a “grown” sassafras tree. I remember, as a child, stripping the bark off of little sassafras trees.

  7. 8


    This very interesting to this northern gal who wouldn’t know a sassafras tree if it fell on her head!!! (I wonder if we have them in southern Delaware???)

    • 8.1

      Chris says

      I believe you do. If it is the same as a tulip tree. From the look of the leaves, they look like tulip tree leaves. I have all kinds of tulip trees in my yard in South Jersey.

  8. 9


    Hi Judy,
    Are you sure you didn’t just give a secret away that has been kept in families for years? When ever I ask a question about cooking of the people I know in real life about file, cajun cooking, creole cooking and specific recipes like Crawfish Etoufee I get very vague answers. One gal made us some gumbo and told me when I am ready to make some she would give me some file, as it is a family secret mix of spices. I ask my husband’s former room mate and his girlfriend about crawfish etoufee and they would not explain to me what is was other then a dish made with crawfish. (He used to own a cajun/creole restaurant and was the cook! From Louisiana, but now lives in WI)

    If I had know that file was made from sassafras leaves I would have used it years ago!

  9. 11

    Cynthia H., El Cerrito, CA says

    OK. I’ve thought about this for hours, and just can’t stand it anymore…

    There are no sassafras trees in California. There is only Zartrain’s file gumbo and Zartrain’s dirty rice MIX (?!), etc. I’m a scratch cook–must adhere to Very Low Sodium guidelines ( Florida => Georgia w/friends in Louisiana, Wash DC, North Carolina, Tennessee…crawdad festivals…catfish & hush puppies…PROPER fried chicken…pecan pie…and then California, home of so much healthful, fresh cooking that sometimes ya just want to scream…)


    P.S. If I remember correctly, the sassafras tree has leaves of three shapes.

  10. 12


    Why did you show that to us? Huh? Now, I have to throw away my measly bottle of store bought file` powder. And then I won’t have any for gumbo. I guess I’ll have to call around to see if I can find a sassafras tree at one of the nurseries. We may even have some growing on our place here in south Louisiana but I wouldn’t know it if it bit me in the behind. 😉

  11. 13


    Wonderful! I wonder if your friend would send me some dried Sassafras leaves, too! Remember, I’m from your “neck of the woods” and I just LOVE gumbo!

    I wonder if Sassafras trees grow in the Texas Panhandle?

  12. 14

    Norma in Baton Rouge says

    You’ve got me interested too. I live in Louisiana but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sassafras tree, and know I’ve never had any sassafras tea, though it sounds good. We usually thicken our gumbo with okra, but I love the file’ too.

  13. 15


    Okay, I’m ducking and running as I write this-I’ve heard of File’ gumbo, but I’ve never had any. We’re not big okra fans either. Can you explain it a little more? The web has way too much info on it. Isn’t sassafras sweet?

  14. 16

    Cylena says

    I love gumbo. I never knew that sassafras leaves make the file. Omg I live in Bama and it’s already cold here. We’ve had a few frost. I did know where some was at but not sure if it’s still good. Thanks for the info.