Ox gallstones, or bezoars, were first discovered in the writings of Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic.
This was written in the Qin and Western Han Dynasties, which dates its use from anywhere from 206 BCE to 221 BCE. They weren’t just used in China culture, however.
Those who lived in the Andes Mountains were using gallstones and bezoars before Europeans arrived there.
The Persians and Greeks used the gallstones to cure poison, in the first century AD. Greek medicine also suggested that one wear the bezoar in a pendant or ring to invoke the stone’s magical properties.
Some even claimed they could make a man virile and improve a woman’s fertility.
Gallstones are mentioned in the eighth century AD in Arabia by Serapion who was the court physician to Caliph Harun al-Rashid. He claimed that gallstones could cure the poison of snake bites and scorpion stings.
The stones were used for jewelry and charms, especially in and after the 12th century, when they were brought to Europe by Crusaders.
Elizabeth the First was among those who desired bezoar jewelry, having one set inside of a silver ring.
In the 1400s, after Vasco de Gama traveled to Calicut, India, the Portuguese explorer opened trade with the native people.
One of the exotic goods they purchased were bezoars, which they believed protected knights and nobles from poison and evils they’d encounter in their life.
Garcia de Orta, also Portuguese, reported that all wealthy Indians used bezoars in rose water after purging every morning for five days straight in the specific months of March and September in order to maintain their youth.
He also believed that the bezoar could protect against and cure the plague.
During the 17th century in Europe, the fanfare around bezoars died out. Surgeons and doctors stopped using them to treat illness, especially after Ambrose Pare, a surgeon, tested the authenticity of the bezoar’s claim to be able to cure poison by feeding the bezoar to a criminal who had been poisoned.
The criminal, unsurprisingly, was not cured and quickly died, albeit painfully.
Bezoars were considered to be effective, especially in treating childhood diseases such as infant convulsions. They were also used with other herbal medicines.
A drug that is still used today, called “Bezoar Bolus for Ressurection,” contains ox gallstones, Curcuma root, rhinoceros horn, Baikal skullcap root, Coptis root, realgar, cape jasmine fruit, cinnabar, musk, and pearl.
This drug was used to treat the heat involving pericardium and heat of phlegm which was stagnating the heart. Symptoms of this condition included: high fever, coma, delirium, and a yellow tongue.
Ancient Chinese scholars were able to tell true ox gallstones from fake ones by simply rubbing their finger across the surface of the stone.
If the yellow color was not easily removed from their stained finger, then the stone was true. This tradition of using ox gallstones to treat illness holds true even today in China.