Bismuth is an oddball element. Typically, elements in the same area of the periodic table share similar characteristics. If you go up from bismuth on the periodic table, you find antimony and arsenic, both notably toxic. If you go left, you find lead, thallium and mercury, all toxic. (A British serial killer named Graham Frederick Young killed three people in the 1960s and 1970s by slowly poisoning them with thallium.) If you go right, you find nothing but radioactive elements; bismuth is the highest-numbered stable element. But despite living in this rather nasty neighborhood, bismuth is essentially nontoxic. In fact, it's a natural antacid and the main active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol.
Bismuth has a lower melting point than even lead, so it's easy to liquefy on a stove top. I use a pair of brand-new stainless-steel measuring cups, one to melt it in and another to pour the excess into when the first one has hardened about halfway. It doesn't work every time, but the process will usually net you some big crystals like those in photo 3 [above], and once in a while you get a beautiful nest of square crystals, like a geode. Turn the cup over and bang it on a hard surface to knock the bismuth out.