Today’s featured plant is Dame’s Rocket, Hesperis matronalis.
Dame’s rocket is also known as sweet rocket, white rocket, purple rocket, damask violet, dame’s violet, dames-wort, dame’s gilliflower, queen’s gilliflower, rogue’s gilliflower, winter gilliflower, rucchette, roquette, summer lilac and night-scented gilliflower, vesper flower and mother-of-the-evening (due to its scent being stronger during the evening hours and almost non-existent during the day).
It is in the mustard family (Brassicaceae), like Winter Cress (AKA Yellow Rocket, Barbarea vulgaris). It resembles garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) and Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata L.), but Dame’s Rocket flowers have four petals and phlox flowers have five. (All members of the mustard family have four petals.)
Range and Identification of Dame’s Rocket
Dame’s rocket is native to Europe, but has spread through much of North America and Asia. It can be found throughout most of North America, except for in a handful of states to the deep south (see map). It is considered weedy and invasive in many areas, but it is beautiful and edible!
Dame’s rocket tolerates a wide range of conditions – wet or dry, sun or shade, although it prefers part sun and loamy soil. It’s commonly found along roadside (where I took my photos) in open fields and near old homesteads.
The plant usually grows as an annual or biennial, rarely as a perennial. If the flower heads are cut back it will bloom a second time. The standard bloom season lasts for three months. Although non-native, it is often included in wildflower mixes and produces thousands seeds per plant. The plant begins starts out in the form of a basal rosette before shooting up flower stalks during bloom. It reaches 2-3 feet in height.
The flowers can be purple, blue or white. They measure 1/2 to 1″ across (1-2.5 cm). There are four round petals (as mentioned above). Flowers are borne on stalks above the foliage. These stalks bloom from the bottom up. Small seed pods produce an abundance of tiny, black seeds.
Leaves are oblong, coarsely toothed and lance shaped. They range from 1 to 3″ (2.5 to 7.5 cm) long. Stems and leaves are covered with fine hairs.
Leaves are attached in an alternating pattern up the stem.
(See Wildflowers of Wisconsin for more information.)
Dame’s Rocket as Wildlife Habitat
Dame’s rocket is a popular nectar plant for butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. Illinois wildflowers shares faunal associations:
The primary pollinators of the flowers are butterflies and moths, which suck nectar. Other insect visitors, with one or two exceptions, are less effective at pollination and are attracted by the pollen (their mouthparts aren’t long enough to reach the nectar). Müller of 19th century Germany observed the following visitors: White butterflies, Soldier flies, Syrphid flies, Halictid bees, Andrenid bees, and honeybees. Among the Syrphid flies, a Rhingia sp. was observed sucking nectar because of its exceptionally long proboscis. Information about this plant’s relationships to birds and mammals is currently unavailable.
Other sites mention that it is deer resistant and of low palatability to browsing animals in general.
Dame’s Rocket for Food and Medicine
The leaves, seeds and flowers of the plant are edible, but best enjoyed in moderation, as A Modern Herbal indicates that “a strong dose will cause vomiting”. (I’m guessing you have to eat a *lot* to get this effect. The same site also notes they are high in vitamin C and have been cultivated for that vitamin C.)
Eat Your Weeds claims that it’s our civic duty to eat this weed, as it is invasive. Their Edible Flowers post states:
Young leaves collected before flowering are eaten like cress. Seed pods can be added stews and soups. Seeds are a source of oil and can be sprouted and eaten. The flowers are used to add spicy flavors to fruit dishes and salads.
The seed oil is also used in perfume making.
Mother Earth Living notes that, “Dame’s rocket has been used medicinally to induce sweating, promote urination, and loosen a cough, but no scientific evidence confirms its effectiveness.”
As always, any medical information is for informational purposes only. Always exercise caution when using any wild plants and make sure you have positively identified the plant.
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P.S. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Weekly Weeder series and other herbal and wildcrafting posts.