Dame’s rocket, or Hesperis matronalis, is a member of the Brassicaceae family of plants, which includes arugula, broccoli, and mustard.
Native to Europe, 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. And, while I enjoy seeing its lovely pink/purple and white blossoms along roads in my region, it is considered invasive in most states.
You may know H. matronalis as damask violet, dame’s violet, or gillyflower, a generic name used for several fragrant flowers.
To look at this plant, you’d likely think you were looking at a native phlox plant, Phlox paniculata. To make a certain determination, count the petals. H. matronalis has four, but phlox varieties have five.
Dame’s rocket is a biennial, meaning it blooms in the second year. However, it is a self-sower. If it’s allowed to drop seed, you’ll soon enjoy a continuous yearly bloom, as with a perennial plant.
Did you know that the leaves and seeds of dame’s rocket are edible, used for medicinal purposes, and purported to be endowed with aphrodisiac properties?
Another unique characteristic of this plant is that it bears blossoms and seed pods simultaneously. 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 cloves and violets. And matronalis comes from the Roman 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?
It’s probably derived from the plant’s edible leaves. You see, in Europe, its cousin arugula is called “rocket.”
You’ll find a delicious recipe for arugula on our sister site, Foodal. You may like to try with the pungent young leaves of dame’s rocket instead.
Hesperis matronalis Plant Facts
- Average, well-drained soil
- Blooms May through August
- Colors include various shades of pink and purple, and white
- Easy to grow
- Edible leaves and seeds, with culinary and medicinal applications
- Fragrant flowers
- Full sun to partial shade
- Introduced and considered invasive in most states
- May reach three feet in height
- Zones 3 to 8
Where to Buy
Packages containing 100 dame’s rocket seeds are available from the Dirty Gardener on Amazon.
Packages containing 500 seeds are also available.
Contain and Enjoy
H. matronalis offers robust color, fragrance, and use in culinary and medicinal applications.
However, its invasive nature must not be ignored.
Like the bachelor’s button cornflower, it has become a country classic, bordering highways and dotting meadows across our nation. However, it also contributes nothing to 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. And remove the seed pods for home use or reseeding next spring, rather than letting them scatter into the environment.
Our article 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? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Product photo via The Dirty Gardener. 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!