Date of Award

Fall 2023

Project Type


Program or Major

Biological Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Iago Hale

Second Advisor

Rebecca Sideman

Third Advisor

Bryan Connolly


Neglected and underutilized crop species (NUCS) represent a reservoir of biodiversity that can be leveraged to help develop a more robust and sustainable food production system. This investigation sought to identify an edible crop species with potential as a novel food crop for the New England food system and conduct a subsequent evaluation of the chosen species based on agronomic traits of interest. A series of interviews were conducted between August and December 2020 with regional experts and specialists with experience in the subject matter. Based on interview data and a subsequent literature review, Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) emerged as a species of interest due to its agricultural merits, long history of use, and ecological service as an endemic, pollinator-friendly perennial.Cardenolide content was selected as a priority trait of interest due to a limited understanding of the human health effects of cardenolide ingestion from culinarily prepared milkweed. Cardenolides, steroidal toxins that interrupt transmembrane ion exchange, are produced defensively by common milkweed to deter specialized herbivorous insect species. To evaluate the cardenolide content of regional milkweed populations, a spectrophotometric assay was investigated, drawing upon existing