Dame’s Rocket

Dame’s Rocket, Gouache & Walnut Ink, 2021, 5.5 X 8.5″, Available for Purchase July 2021

When I first came across this plant, I thought it was Phlox, a lovely native plant. And it wasn’t until I looked up Phlox that I realized my complete mistake. While Dame’s Rocket is equally beautiful, it is HUGE in comparison. And invasive. Now that I know, I see it everywhere choking out whole areas of prairie/woodland boarder areas. Even in my own backyard, it’s infiltrated the little woods behind our house and is trying to choke out our wild ginger, ferns, and other native woodland plants. But all hope is not lost. It’s a biennial and if you mow it down after it flowers but before it seeds, you can stop its march through your yard. The issue I’m having is you can’t mow the woodland areas and there are other biennials I’m trying to cultivate and mowing is a cause of them losing their footing in are roadsides/yards. So, out come the sheers. Now, do I resent the plant? Nope. I enjoy its beauty and the pollinators enjoy its nectar, then go to town clipping bouquets to dry and use as fire kindling.

10% of all print sales are donated to Story County Conservation, Iowa Arboretum, and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

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About Dame’s Rocket

Hesperis matronalis is an herbaceous plant species in the family Brassicaceae.

Common Names:

Common names for Hesperis matronalis include that of dame’s rocket, damask-violet, dame’s-violet, dames-wort, dame’s gilliflower, night-scented gilliflower, queen’s gilliflower, rogue’s gilliflower, summer lilac, sweet rocket, mother-of-the-evening, Good & Plenties, and winter gilliflower.

Native Origin

Eurasia; introduced to North America in the 1600’s. 

Identification key: An erect, herbaceous biennial or perennial in the mustard family (Brassocaceae) growing 1.5 to 3 feet in height.

Folk Lore

“This lovely lavender-flowered plant’s Latin genus name (hesperis) means “evening” and its species name (matronalis) means “matronly.” Also called Dameswort, Evenweed, Rockset and Summer Lilac. The folklore surrounding this one is both positive and negative. Some sources say it is a symbol of woman’s independence. And other folklorists, noting the strong cinnamon fragrance which is more noticeable in the evening than during the daytime, mention it as a “flower of deceit.” ” (source: American Meadows)

Traditional Uses

“Dame’s rocket has been used medicinally to induce sweating, promote urination, and loosen a cough, but no scientific evidence confirms its effectiveness. The leaves, which are rich in vitamin C, have also been used to treat or prevent scurvy; however, in A Modern Herbal (1931), Maud Grieve notes that “a strong dose will cause vomiting” and suggests the leaves as a substitute for the emetic ipecac. According to Hilda Leyel, editor of A Modern Herbal and author of Herbal Delights, the seeds were “said to be a most efficacious cure for stings and bites of serpents and they were sometimes mixed with vinegar to cure freckles.

“Europeans have enjoyed eating young dame’s rocket leaves in salads for their bitter, piquant tang. (Dame’s rocket is closely related to arugula.) The sprouted seeds–if not needed for serpent stings or freckle control–are also edible. The plant when in flower is rumored to be a “gland stimulant” and an aphrodisiac. In the Victorian “language of flowers”, dame’s rocket symbolized deceit because it is fragrant in the evening but scentless–or nearly so–during the day.

“Dame’s rocket is a food source for caterpillars as well as a nectar source for butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. The flowers are good for cutting and will lend their welcome perfume to the room in which they are placed.” (Source: Mother Earth Living)

Conservation Status

Invasive, but not considered noxious.

10% of all print sales are donated to Story County Conservation, Iowa Arboretum, and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

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Thank you for visiting and spending time learning about the botanicals in my backyard. May this bring you a deeper understanding and joy in your own ecology.

Kristin M Roach

Published by kristinMroach

Hi! I am an artist, author, and owner of a modern apothecary called Little Woods in Ames, Iowa.