Sassafras Leaf c/s
Botanical Name - Sassafras albidium
Other Names - Ague Tree, Saxifrax Tree, White Sassafras, Sassafac, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Silky, Saxifrax
Origin - USA
Flavor Profile - Sassafras is highly aromatic with an earthy flavor that has notes of anise and lemon. There are also notes of eucalyptus and root beer.
Culinary Usages - Use to make Filé, a spice made and used primarily by the Cajuns of Southern Louisiana and invented by the Choctaw Indians, used as a thickener and flavoring in soups and stews. If you have had Gumbo, you have probably eaten it already. People often think that Filé is a combination of spices due to its interesting flavor. Surprisingly, it has only one ingredient, dried Sassafras leaves. Also may be used to prepare a tea, by pouring 8 oz boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of herb. Covering and steeping for 5-10 minutes.
Sassafras albidum is a very useful tree. The roots are frequently dug up, dried, and boiled to make sassafras tea. The twigs and leaves are both edible, and can be eaten raw or added to soups for flavor. Although it seems strange, dried sassafras leaves are actually very important spice in some dishes. Ground sassafras leaves are called file powder, which is used as a thickener.
Typically, sassafras trees grow only three types of leaves: ovate lobe-less leaves, two-lobed leaves, and three-lobed leaves. Usually, all three types of leaves can be found growing on the same tree. Why does this happen? How can so many different leaf shapes grow on one tree? No one is certain. Some hypothesize that there are certain starches in the leaves that cause some leaves to form lobes and others to remain lobe-less. Until more research is done, sassafras leaf shapes remain a mystery.
Parts of the sassafras plant contains safrole, which may be carcinogenic according to the FDA. In the 1960's, researchers isolated this compound of Sassafras and fed it to rats in ridiculously high concentration (not found in nature) and they developed cancer (go figure, keep in mind that they had not even decided that cigarettes caused cancer at this point so my faith in this determination is fair at best). You can also find safrole in more common herbs such as black pepper, basil and nutmeg. However, just to be on the safe side, the leaves of Sassafras do not contain safrole so they are safe.
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