November 2007
The Herb Farm

File’ Gumbo

In the past, I have only written about herbs you can use medicinally or the ones that make you smell good. In this article I will try to explain the good, the bad and the ugly of the herb sassafras.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is an herb as well as a deciduous tree native to the eastern parts of North America including Southern Ontario, in Canada. In the United States it grows from southern Maine, west to Iowa, south to Texas, southeast to Florida and all areas in between.

It grows wild here on the farm. If you see a stand of sassafras trees they are usually interconnected by a single root system making them one plant, in a sense, rather than individual trees.

Sassafras oils are distilled from the tree bark or roots. The essential oils are used to flavor candies and teas. The oils are used for aromatherapy and as fragrance additives to perfumes and soaps. Though I haven’t gotten these results, the leaves are said to repel mosquitoes.

The leaves are dried and ground to make file’ powder which is a staple ingredient in file’ gumbo.

Now for the bad and the ugly part of this plant. Sassafras contains a chemical known as safrole. Safrole has a sweet candy-like scent. Safrole was used to make sassafras teas until not too long ago. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of safrole in the making of candies, teas, soaps and even perfumes because it is considered to be mildly carcinogenic.

Though safrole is still sold, if you attempt to buy large quantities of this oil it will raise the suspicion of the law enforcement agencies. Safrole is currently a List I chemical with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Among other illegal uses of safrole, it is a key ingredient in the manufacturing process of the drug Ecstasy.

Will those sassafras trees that smell so sweet become the next Wild Wood Weed? If so, what will become of file’ gumbo? Who knows? I would definitely be interested in your opinions on this one.

E-mail me and let’s discuss this before the government makes it illegal to enjoy a non-alcohol sarsaparilla!

If you have any questions about other uses for sassafras, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll tell you all I know. As always, check with an expert, such as your doctor, before using this or any other herbal remedy.