Sassafras albidum is a medium-sized, deciduous tree native to eastern North America. Sassafras leaf has a long tradition of use by indigenous peoples. Often, the leaf was used to flavor and thicken soups and sauces. Adapted by the Creole culture of the southern United States, sassafras leaves have become an integral part in regional culinary dishes like gumbo. Aromatic and warming, the leaf can even be used in tea infusions or in topical applications.
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.
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