How to Grow and Care for Dame’s Rocket

Hesperis matronalis

Dame’s rocket, Hesperis matronalis, is a fragrant, edible member of the Brassicaceae family of plants, which includes arugulabroccoli, and mustard.

A vertical image of small purple flowers, Hesperis matronalis, growing in the summer garden, pictured in bright sunshine on a green soft focus background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

Native to Europe and Asia, it was originally brought to the United States as an ornamental plant.

As with many introduced varieties, its seed spread beyond garden borders and naturalized in surrounding woodlands and meadows.

Unfortunately, it is an aggressive grower that competes with native plants, threatening natural ecosystems with its spread.

Classified as invasive in many regions, H. matronalis is especially vigorous in the Midwest and Northeast regions of the US.

Cultivation is against the law in some states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.

If you are gardening in the US, please consult your local agricultural extension before planting, or you might find you’re breaking the law.

Many plants can become invasive under ideal growing conditions. Be aware that if you allow seeds to disperse from this plant, it will spread readily under ideal growing conditions.

In this article, you will learn how to grow dame’s rocket, a wildflower that knows no bounds.

Why? Because you may want to grow it for its pretty flowers and edible leaves.

Or, you may need to identify and eradicate it without mixing it up with other flowers that look similar.

And interestingly, this outlaw wildflower is enjoyed by domestic goats, so if you’ve got a herd to feed, or even one hungry horned buddy, you’re definitely going to want to read on.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

What Is Dame’s Rocket?

You may know H. matronalis as mother-of-the-evening, damask violet, dame’s violet, or gillyflower, a generic common name used for several fragrant flowers.

A close up of bright pink dame's rocket flowers growing in the summer garden, pictured on a green soft focus background.

It looks like a native garden phlox, Phlox paniculata, but to be certain, count the petals.

H. matronalis has four, but phlox varieties have five. In addition, dame’s rocket has leaves that alternate along the stem while phlox leaves are arranged opposite each other.

A close up of the bright pink flowers of native phlox, Phlox paniculata, growing in the garden, pictured on a soft focus background.
Native phlox, Phlox paniculata.

This plant also bears some resemblance to native fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium.

And while fireweed also has four petals, they are narrower, and each blossom has eight distinguishing long white stamens that protrude from the center.

A close up of the pink flowers with prominent white stamens of native fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium, growing in the garden, pictured on a soft focus background.
Native fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium.

The seed pods of H. matronalis are especially long and narrow, another identifying feature.

For definitive identification, collect seeds for evaluation by your local agricultural extension.

Dame’s rocket is a biennial, which means it blooms in the second year of growth. After pollination and seed formation, it is a vigorous self-sower.

If it’s allowed to drop seed, you’ll soon enjoy a continuous yearly bloom, as you would with a perennial plant.

A close up horizontal image of white dame's rocket flowers growing in the garden with a bee feeding on the bloom, pictured on a soft focus background.

Another unique characteristic of this plant is that it bears blossoms and seed pods simultaneously.

The leaves, sprouted seeds, and dried seeds of dame’s rocket are edible. They have been used for medicinal purposes and are purported to be endowed with aphrodisiac properties.

Its names are interesting as well.

The Latin word hesperis refers to evening, the time when the flowers emit a fragrance that’s a cross between that of cloves and violets.

And matronalis comes from the Roman festival, Matronalia, a celebration of Juno, the goddess of motherhood and childbirth.

As for its common name, “dame” is no surprise, given its feminine origins. But, where does the rocket come from?

Perhaps from its edible leaves. In Europe, its cousin arugula is called “rocket.”

It is believed that this plant was introduced to North America in the 1600s, so it’s had plenty of time to make itself at home.

In the first year, plants produce leaves. They are lance-shaped with serrated margins, and form a mound at the base of the plant in a rosette shape called a basal whorl.

A close up of a small dame's rocket plant, growing in the garden, pictured in bright sunshine with fallen leaves in soft focus in the background.
Photo by SB_Johnny, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

In the second year, hairy stems grow. They have alternating hairy leaves and end in racemes – or clusters of showy blossoms. Each has four claw-shaped petals that are wide at the top and narrow at the base.

The flowers may be magenta, pink, purple, or white. In addition to botanical species, which has one row of petals, there are cultivars with two.

A close up of a small, purple dame's rocket plant growing in the garden, surrounded by green foliage, with trees and shrubs in soft focus in the background.

Bloom times range from May to August.

H. matronalis is a fairly tall plant with stems that range from one to three feet, or sometimes four feet in height.

It has an upright, mounding growth habit with sparse branching. Mature widths are between one and two feet.

Plants grow in full sun to part shade with average soil, provided it drains well, and the roots are shallow. It’s no wonder it spreads easily along the edges of gravelly roadways.

Dame’s rocket seeds are sometimes included in wildflower mixes, so beware.

Propagation

Botanical species H. matronalis, as found in nature, grows from seed.

A close up horizontal image of a small seedling in dark, rich soil.
Photo by Salicyna, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

However, to reproduce a hybrid cultivar, it’s necessary to take a stem cutting or division from a parent plant to create a clone, as hybrids do not reproduce true from seed.

From Seed

Direct sow seed outdoors any time after the average last spring frost date and up to eight weeks before the average first frost date in the fall.

Scatter seeds on top of moist soil. They require light to germinate, so do not cover them.

From Stem Cuttings

You may take soft tip cuttings from new spring growth, but some gardeners say this is a challenging way to start a plant that grows so well from seed.

If you are growing a hybrid variety that will not produce true to seed, then you can try to root a stem cutting.

Take a four to six-inch cutting from the stem, and dip the cut end into powdered rooting hormone before placing it in soil.

Or place the cuttings in a glass of water until you see roots, then transplant.

By Division

While dividing plants is possible, it’s not sensible.

Yes, you can cut down through its roots in early spring, dig up the cut portion, and plant it elsewhere, per the instructions in our guide to dividing perennials.

However, this is a biennial plant, so it’s only going to live for two years, and while this method enables the replication of a hybrid, it’s just not worth the trouble.

How to Grow

Find a full sun to part shade location. The soil should be of average quality with good drainage and a pH of 6.0 to 7.5.

A close up top down horizontal image of small dame's rocket sprouts growing in the garden in dark, rich soil.
Photo by Salicyna, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

Work the soil in your garden to a depth of 10 to 12 inches, working in a little sand or organic matter such as compost to improve drainage as needed.

Moisten the soil and gently press two or three seeds onto the surface at intervals of 12 to 24 inches.

Maintain even moisture during germination, but do not oversaturate the soil.

Once the seeds sprout and have at least one set of true leaves, thin them so there is one plant growing every 12 to 24 inches.

Provide an inch of water per week in the absence of rain.

A close up horizontal image of a young dame's rocket plant growing in the garden, fading to soft focus in the background.
Photo by Salicyna, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

If you’ve started seeds indoors, plant them out when all danger of frost has passed and seedlings have one or two sets of true leaves.

To do this, prepare the soil as described above, and dig a hole the same depth and width as the root ball. Gently remove the seedling from its container and place in the hole, and backfill with soil. Water in well.

For container gardening, choose a pot with good drainage, a rim diameter of between 12 and 24 inches, and a depth of 12 inches.

Fill it with a good quality potting medium that has good moisture retention, and transplant as described.

Growing Tips

  • Sow seeds any time after the last spring frost date, and until eight weeks prior to the first average fall frost date.
  • Press seeds on top of moist soil as they need light to germinate.
  • To replicate hybrid plants, don’t rely on seeds.

Pruning and Maintenance

This is a dynamic plant that thrives with little intervention. If you are trying to contain its spread, you’ll want to minimize seed drop.

A close up of the white flowers of dame's rocket growing in the summer garden, pictured in bright sunshine on a soft focus background.

You can do this by cutting faded stems down to the base.

However, when to do this is a tough judgment call with a plant that has budding flowers at the top of the cluster, and fading ones setting seed at the bottom.

You’ll have to sacrifice some top blooms to do this, but you may be rewarded with a second flush of blooms later in the season, as well as fewer seeds dropped.

A horizontal image of a young woman in a meadow of dame's rocket flowers with trees in soft focus in the background.

An inch of water per week is adequate. In the event of a dry spell, you may want to provide supplemental water.

Be more vigilant with container-grown plants, as pots dry out quicker than ground soil.

Weed regularly to inhibit competition for water from other vigorous invasives, such as garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata (which is also edible, by the way, and I hear it makes a tasty pesto…).

Apply a two-inch layer of mulch to aid in water retention and inhibit weed growth.

Especially tall plants may benefit from staking.

Cultivars to Select

Despite the invasive tendencies of H. matronalis, seeds are readily available. However, some purveyors will not ship to states where its growth is prohibited.

Here are a few cultivated varieties you may like:

Mixed Colors

H. matronalis ‘Mixed Colors’ offers a varied palette of pinks, whites, and purples.

A field of pink, purple, and white dame's rocket flowers growing in a meadow, with a field and trees in soft focus in the background.

H. matronalis ‘Mixed Colors’

Suited to sun and partial shade, plants grow to 30 inches tall.

Find seeds now from Eden Brothers in 1-ounce, 1/4-pound, 1-pound, and 5-pound packages.

Violet

H. matronalis ‘Violet’ exudes old-fashioned charm with its clusters of rich violet blooms.

A close up of dame's rocket 'Violet' flowers growing in the garden, fading to soft focus in the background.

H. matronalis ‘Violet’

Suited to both sun and partial shade, this type reaches heights of 30 inches.

Find seeds now from Eden Brothers in packages of 1 ounce, 1/4 pound, and 1 pound.

White

H. matronalis ‘White’ grows to a height of approximately 30 inches.

A close up, square image of a white dame's rocket plant growing in the garden, pictured in bright sunshine on a soft focus background.

H. matronalis ‘White’

Flowers exude cottage garden charm with their crisp white petals, in both sun and partial shade.

Find seeds now from Eden Brothers 1-ounce, 1/4-pound, and 1-pound packages.

Managing Pests and Disease

As you might expect, this is not a plant that is prone to problems with pests or disease.

Deer don’t bother with it. That figures!

A close up horizontal image of purple dame's rocket growing in the summer garden surrounded by foliage, pictured in bright sunshine.

However, it is occasionally preyed upon by flea beetles that feed on foliage and leave them riddled with holes. A pyrethrin treatment may be required.

In wet weather, slugs and snails may feed on plant tissue. You can trap them or pick them off if they are problem.

And a rainy, humid summer may promote the growth of a fungal disease called powdery mildew.

This causes the foliage to look at though it has been dusted with flour. It may be necessary to remove affected foliage and/or treat with a fungicide.

Harvesting, Cooking, and Preservation

Enjoy sprouted seeds or pick tender young microgreens for use in salads and sandwiches.

The pungent, somewhat bitter foliage is rich in vitamin C.

A close up horizontal picture of the leaves and stems of dame's rocket growing in the garden ready for harvest, pictured in light sunshine on a soft focus background.

Try substituting H. matronalis for the arugula in this fresh green salad with beets and goat cheese from our sister site, Foodal.

Lightly saute young leaves and buds for a tangy wilted greens side dish.

A close up of the flower bud of dame's rocket growing in the garden pictured in light sunshine on a green soft focus background.

And be sure to snip blossoms for attractive garnishes on cold entrees, sides, and desserts.

A close up of a hand from the left of the frame holding a long, thin seed pod, pictured on a soft focus background.
Photo by Matt Lavin, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

Collect the seeds after the flowers have withered to save to plant next year, or press them for oil. The oil extraction process is beyond the scope of this article, but feel free to let us know if you give it a try.

Save seeds in an airtight jar for up to one year in a cool, dry location.

Best Uses

The shallow roots make dame’s rocket a good candidate for container gardening. Keep it on a patio to curb its spread and have it handy for picking.

A horizontal picture of a metal watering can planted with purple and white dame's rocket flowers set on a wooden block on a tiled surface.

H. matronalis looks great in cottage garden settings and wildflower gardens, but never forget that it’s a strong competitor for nutrients and water.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type: Biennial Flower / Foliage Color: Pink, purple, white/green
Native To: Asia and Europe Tolerance: Deer
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 3-8 Maintenance: Moderate
Bloom Time / Season: Summer Soil Type: Average
Exposure: Full sun to part shade Soil pH: 6.0-7.5
Spacing: 1-2 feet Soil Drainage: Well-draining
Planting Depth: Surface sow Attracts: Beneficial insects, butterflies, moths
Height: 1-3 feet Uses: Beds, borders, containers, drifts, mass plantings
Spread: 1-2 feet Order: Brassicales
Growth Rate: Aggressive Family: Brassicaceae
Water Needs: Moderate Genus: Hesperis
Pests & Diseases: Flea beetles, slugs, snails; powdery mildew Species: matronalis

Contain and Enjoy

H. matronalis offers robust color, flavor, and fragrance.

However, its invasive nature must not be ignored. Especially in areas where it’s prohibited.

A close up horizontal image of vivid pink Hesperis matronalis, also known as Dame's Rocket, growing in the summer garden pictured in light sunshine on a green soft focus background.

Like the bachelor’s button cornflower, it has become a country classic, bordering highways and dotting meadows across our nation. However, it also threatens the habitat of local bees, birds, and butterflies.

Mindful of this information, if you choose to cultivate H. matronalis, you may want to contain it as the European ornamental it once was.

Remove the seed pods for home use or reseeding next spring, rather than letting them scatter into the environment.

Our article on gardening in small spaces has some great container ideas to help you keep this plant in check.

What are your thoughts about dame’s rocket? Do you grow it? Serve it in salad? Feed to your goats? Let us know in the comments section below.

If you’re looking for native wildflowers to populate your flower garden, here are some articles to read next:


Don’t forget to Pin It!

Dame’s rocket has naturalized in almost every state. This pretty phlox-like flower that grows along highways and in meadows is considered invasive. However, its leaves and seeds have culinary and medicinal applications. Should you grow it in your yard? Decide with us, right here on Gardener’s Path.

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published: August 6, 2017. Last updated: August 2, 2020. Product photos via Eden Brothers. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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Chassi
Chassi (@guest_4180)
1 year ago

You’re certainly right about the fragrance; it’s intoxicating in the evening! The flowers are also so bright and cheerful that they want to make you smile; however with that being said, I haven’t noticed any of our area’s pollinators really interested in the blossoms. Bees and others were crazy about the lilacs and phlox, but not these beauties. There’s a huge clump growing where last year’s native Jewelweed grew, so now I’m pretty worried. The land I’m currently living on has been neglected for years, so it needs all the help it can get. Thank you so much for the… Read more »

Beth Lueck
Beth Lueck (@guest_4187)
1 year ago

Am extremely disappointed the author is promoting a plant she admits is a non native, invasive. The author irresponsibly even goes so far as to give sources for seeds.
I’d like to invite the writer to my home state of Wisconsin, where, like many other similar states, we are being overtaken by invasives, displacing native plants and spreading in the wild unchecked. It’s not ok to promote such plants, even if they look and smell pretty and are edible. What’s next? Advocating garlic mustard?

Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn (@mike20)
Active Member
Reply to  Beth Lueck
1 year ago

Beth Lueck You obviously landed on this page via Google (most likely) or Bing or via a Pinterest pin so you had enough interest in this flower to be researching it. Would you rather land on our result where Nan gives a whole lot of warnings about it being invasive (and methods to minimize this) or click on a half-baked gardening site where this is not done? Somebody has to be in the top 3 of Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, etc. Would you rather it be a site that doesn’t care enough to state repeatedly that it can be… Read more »

jo meyer husby
jo meyer husby (@guest_4385)
1 year ago

i love that flower. i brought it back from Minnesota. It is called russian lilac there and were all purple. It is common in england. My only problem is that i want it to resseed or i need the seeds but it is ugly while making seed and keeping the seed. I hate to keep it that way until fall. I was glad to find your post. I was looking to see if it will rebloom if i cut it down. Any one know? i dont think it is a problem. gives deer alternative flowers and i think bees do… Read more »

Vicky
Vicky (@guest_8437)
Reply to  Nan Schiller
3 months ago

What is the best way to dead head them? I can’t find that info anywhere!

Susan Wearne
Susan Wearne (@guest_4483)
1 year ago

I love the fragrance of Dame’s Rocket, and miss it in my garden. I first discovered H. matronalis when we lived alongside a creek in the Sierra foothills. It grew in profusion, and the Tiger Swallowtail butterflies loved it. I think the hummingbirds did as well. I dug up a clump when we moved, but all these years of drought plus missing its creekside habitat – she wasted away!

M H
M H (@guest_6096)
6 months ago

We have grown Dames Rocket at our midwest home for many years.
Contrary to your comment that it is not a benefit to butterflies or bees, we found it to be an early spring bloom that butterflies and bumble bees flocked to all summer, and especially in early spring, when nothing else was blooming except violets.
We have many photos of blue swallowtails and tiger swallowtails on our Dames Rocket plants, probably these butterflies winter over and found our garden and the Dames Rocket flowers!

Jeanne M Henderson
Jeanne M Henderson (@guest_6767)
5 months ago

This plant is an invasive species in Michigan and Wisconsin and some other states. We are trying to get rid of it, not promoting it!

Shari Frank
Shari Frank (@guest_6857)
5 months ago

Isn’t this an invasive that should be banned because it takes over habitats and blocks native plants?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Shari Frank
5 months ago

Dame’s rocket can be invasive in certain climates, and it is on the invasive plants list in some parts of the Northeast, Midwest, and Western parts of the country. But this is not the case in every growing zone in the US.

Adam Wertz
Adam Wertz (@adam-wertz)
Admin
Member
Reply to  Shari Frank
2 months ago

To add to what Allison said, although Gardener’s Path is based in the US, we also have many, many readers from the UK and Europe where it’s not a problem.

There are warnings of its invasive nature spread throughout the guide.