What follows is a remedy that René Descartes apparently used and recorded in July, 1628, in order to relieve a trouble du transit intestinal. I have often said, only half-jokingly, that an alternative history of philosophy could be written by focusing upon the preoccupations of the canonical thinkers throughout history with the state of their own bowels, from the Pythagorean interdiction on beans to Nietzsche's claim (which I endorse) that "you will understand the origin of the German spirit—from distressed intestines." In such a history, Descartes' recipe would stand as a particularly important bit of evidence: the only reason we have it is because another philosopher, G. W. Leibniz, transcribed it nearly 50 years later, when Descartes' literary executor, Claude Clerselier, gave the German philosopher one day, February 24, 1676, to look through Descartes' manuscripts and to transcribe whatever interested him. Ponder that fact for a moment: Leibniz had a single day to copy out whatever he could find of interest in the Nachlass of the greatest philosopher of his era, and this remedy against constipation made the list. Clearly he was operating with a different understanding of the scope of the discipline than we are.
(Query to neo-Latinists: I'm not sure how to translate the phrase 'italicae nucis testae inditae'. Surely he's talking about some sort of nut-shaped clay vessels, rather than nuts themselves?)
A particularly difficult evacuation of the lower intestine after a number of meals was brought about in this way: Equal parts bull's gall, unsalted butter, black hellebore, extract of diacolocynthide, diagridion, and saffron, reduced into a single mass and heated over a flame until they have attained the consistency of honey, inserted into Italian terracotta vessels and applied to the navel. And this cataplasm is then fastened so that it does not fall; and two cataplasms of clay, filled with these potions, are applied the one after the other, one per day. The first days nothing was felt by the patient, other than agitations and murmurs; the third day, the desired evacuation arrived with great pain, but the normal excretion did not follow the very hard excrements until the abdomen of a freshly slaughtered calf, covered in aged oil sifted after cooking and heated up, was applied to the patient's stomach, and until the anus was probed by fingers covered with bile and butter.
[Alvi egrestio difficillima post menses aliquot sic provocata. Fellis taurini recentis, butyri insulsi, hellebori nigri, extracti diacolocynthidis, diagridii & croci partes aequales, in unam massam redactae, & igni ad mellis consistentiam decoctae, italicae nucis testae inditae, umbilico impositae sunt. Ligataque fuit mox ne caderet, & binae testae, diebus singulis, potionibus intus assumtis, sic repleta impositae sunt. Primis diebus, nihil praeter fluctuationes & murmura a patiente sentiebantur; tertia die, cum immensis doloribus supervenit egerendi desiderium; at induratis excrementis non successit excretio, donec vituli abdomen recens, cum oleo antiquo ad ignem cribratum & calens, ventriculo induceretur, digitis que felle & butyro inunctis anus sollicitaretur] (AT XI 644).