Aurora Leveroni is the high priestess of pot cuisine. The 92-year-old Italian grandmother, better known as “Nonna Marijuana,” charmed the cannabis community with her appearance in the debut episode of Munchies’ “Bong Appetit” series when she showed how she prepared classic Italian dishes, but replaced traditional fats with marijuana-infused butter and oil.
Nonna Marijuana first broadcast her cannabis cooking skills in 2011, with a YouTube video posted by Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a non-profit organization which provides medical marijuana for patients on a donation basis that was founded by her daughter Valerie Corral. Although Nonna doesn’t partake in the herb herself, she developed an affinity for the healing powers of marijuana after seeing how it helped her mother during chemotherapy and again in the 1970s with her daughter’s grand mal seizures.
Now, she uses an extensive collection of old family recipes — dosed with a healthy portion of THC — to make life better for people suffering from ailments that would otherwise make it impossible for them to enjoy food.
Cannabis Now Magazine: Whom do you cook for primarily?
Nonna Marijuana: I do it for people who have been subjected to certain pharmaceutical drugs that were prescribed, which are not effective. Marijuana is very effective for those who have been taking chemo or can’t sleep or [experience] loss of appetite. It’s good for any one of those conditions – pain or seizures. My purpose in cooking with marijuana — and I cook all Italian foods, of course, since that is my forte – is to help them eat nourishing food. I know that when my mother had leukemia and she was on drugs – she did chemo – it made her so ill. This was in the ’60s and the kids had given her some marijuana. She never smoked, but she made tea – and she slept like a baby. She said, “Why didn’t you get me some of this sooner?” But primarily, I use it for those who have been ill.
Do you have any dosage recommendations for patients wanting to experiment with cannabutter?
I say you have to use common sense with dosage. If you put a tablespoon of that butter into oatmeal – I’m telling you, you’re going to fly. You have to temper common sense. In other words, if you eat oatmeal, you would use perhaps a tad, not even an eighth or a sixteenth of a teaspoon, and stir it into your oatmeal and taste it and wait awhile. If there is not a visible change, add a little more until you reach the dosage that’s good for you. It’s difficult for me to say amounts. It depends on the ability of the individual. If I were a user, I would have to use very, very little ‘cause it is not something that I would normally use. So, it really depends on the patient or individual.
If you do not “get high on your own supply,” how do you test your food?
Usually, when I cook with marijuana it’s for a patient. I live in Northern California in the Sierras and when I cook for my friends up there – they’re all basically healthy people – but down here, I’m visiting my daughter in the Santa Cruz area. Consequently, it’s her patients. If I cook for them, it’s someone who uses marijuana, so I let them taste it.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
It is my chicken “pot-cciatore.” Chicken Cacciatore, and I call it “pot-cciatore.” When I have first time guests, I always cook that. They just love it because it just has a flavor to it. There’s another dish that I love cooking; it’s angel hair pasta and all I use on it is butter and garlic. I toast it very lightly, and after the pasta is cooked, I pour the butter and the garlic all over it and a couple of hands full of grated cheese.
Have you ever considered publishing a cookbook?
Yes. Two years ago, I started an Italian cookbook and the recipes, they’re from my family, from my mother, my grandmothers. The cookbook I’ve started has Italian recipes and since I’ve been exposed quite a bit to cooking with the marijuana butter, I thought I will put it into my cookbook.
Do you have any plans to market your food commercially?
I never thought about making any money out of it, to be honest with you.
Do you have any marijuana-infused pizza recipes?
I was never raised with pizza. Of course, I was born in this country but being raised with Italian parents, we never had pizza. So, it’s not one of my favorite dishes, but it’s a good idea for people who like it. I wouldn’t be opposed to cooking it if someone requested it.
What were some of your past occupations?
I was a senior companion for seniors younger than I. I was a nurse’s aide. When I retired, I worked for the city as a secretary. I was also a recipient of crisis calls.
What are your hobbies?
I do quite a bit of reading. I take care of my own yard. I still do all of my own housework. My daughter and my son used to say, “Well, mom, get someone to do your vacuuming.” I said, “No, I don’t do that.” I wash my own windows. I do a great deal of cooking. I’ve entered contests. My stuffed portabella mushrooms won first prize; and my biscotti and my mother’s sugar cookies, each one first prize at the fair. I play the piano. Once a month I would go to the long-term patients at the hospital and I would play for an hour. I surf the Internet. I’m not an expert, but I do use the Internet. That’s about it. I breathe, thank God! My doctor said to me, “You’re going to have to exercise 20 minutes a day. I said, “Listen Chris, I exercise 24-7… I inhale and I exhale. As long as I keep those suckers going, I don’t have to worry about walking.”
Is there a special secret to living a long life?
I come from a family of people who have lived a long time. My uncle just missed his 100th birthday. My other uncle just celebrated his 100th birthday. But when I was growing up, the people in my era… born and raised in the 1920s and 1930s… our food was not full of preservatives or chemicals. All of our vegetables were pure. I really think that is the reason. The only vitamin I ever had was cod liver oil. I got a teaspoon of that every single day – like it or not. I eat fresh fruit. I buy organic vegetables. I recommend that to all of you young people that want to live to be 92, take my advice: drink a little glass of wine and eat organic food.
Do you worry about the possibility of prosecution?
Well, we started with marijuana with my daughter in 1970. And at the risk of my husband and I being incarcerated – it didn’t matter. I don’t care if they come knocking on my door and say, “You cannot cook that, you cannot be the marijuana Nonna.” Oh really, well put me in jail, as if I care. I’ll get three meals a day. I get to watch television. I get to cook. It doesn’t bother me. It never did and it never bothered my husband. We could see that the medication that the doctor was prescribing was not controlling her grand mal seizures. That’s when we found out about the marijuana and we said go for it. We don’t care. That old saying, “Damn the torpedoes,” – well, damn the government – it didn’t matter to us whether we were gonna go to jail or not. We never did though. The welfare of our daughter was what was important to us.
What would you say to patients considering medical marijuana?
Listen, marijuana is Mother Nature’s miracle, medicinal leaf. What’s the basis for all pharmaceutical drugs? It’s a chemical. And that by no means is Mother Nature – it’s been invented by a company, a man. It’s always been my belief that the pharmaceutical companies sleep with our leaders. But if the government will get wise to the fact that they can make money by legalizing marijuana. I’m the right person to judge them because I’ve been through it with my daughter and I’ve seen it with other people who have been ill. Marijuana, it controls her seizures – I don’t think she’s had one in quite a few years now. But she does use the marijuana – it’s what keeps her going. I’d say, drop the drugs and start using marijuana, but you’ll have to be cautious. I recommend it very highly.
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.