Bezoars are a mass of undigested fiber formed in the stomach of animals, and were once believed to be an antidote to poison. They have been found in the guts of cows and even elephants, but mostly they come from the “bezoar goat.” Bezoars were first introduced into medieval Europe by Arab physicians. Although doubts were sometimes cast over their properties, the demand continued well into the 18th century.
Wealthy collectors spent considerable sums to acquire the best “stones,” which were kept in elaborate cases. According to A Compleat History of Druggs, first published in French in 1694, the medicinal strength of the bezoar depended on the animal that produced it. “Bezoar Stones taken from Cows,” for instance, “have nothing near the good Qualities” of the true bezoar goat. On the other hand, a mere two grains of “the Bezoar that is found in Apes” will have a far greater effect than that of a mere goat.