By Carlyn Beccia (Guest Contributor)
Wearing this beautiful stone could be a real conversation starter. Not just because it was once worth a small fortune, but because you would basically be wearing a gigantic hairball around your neck. The above is not some ordinary sparkly thing, but a bezoar stone. Bezoar stones are made when undigested food, hair and other yuckiness get stuck inside a goat or other ruminant animal’s stomach where lime, magnesium and other minerals accumulate. For centuries, royals would swallow bezoar stones or put them in their wine glass. Yum.
What could be worse than swallowing a hairball from a goat’s gut? Poison could be a whole lot worse. From 822 AD to the late sixteenth century, it was believed that you could drink any poison if you had a bezoar stone (it’s name literally means “to protect against poison”). Bezoar stones were worn in rings and necklaces to provide a quick antidote for poison. One was even placed in Queen Elizabeth I’s crown.
The Royal Treatment
When King Charles II was on his deathbed, his doctors were convinced that stuffing a bezoar stone down his throat would get him back on his feet. Unfortunately, the king’s condition only worsened to the point where he had to apologize for taking so long to die.
There’s a Hairball in my Soup
King Charles IX of France was so confident of the bezoar’s stones powers that he had his doctor poison his cook and then give him a bezoar stone as an antidote. The cook was dead seven hours later. This experiment proves that anything stuck in a goat’s stomach should probably stay there. Right? Not exactly. Bezoar stones contain a mineral called Brushite (Sodium Hydrogen Phosphate) that counteracts poisoning by exchanging phosphate for arsenate thereby absorbing the poison. Unfortunately, bezoar stones only works with arsenic. Charles’s doctor either did not use arsenic or bought a seriously, bad bezoar stone.
Carlyn Beccia is an award winning children’s book author and illustrator. Read more about history’s wackiest cures for common kid ailments and test your medical smarts in her book, I Feel Better with a Frog in my Throat.
This post first appeared on Wonders & Marvels in November 2011.