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November 19, 2009


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Michael Johnson

We often refer to some of the old remedies as snake oil. But who knows some may really had medicinal benefits. Modern medicine moved to providing more costly but very often less effective medicines due to the profit motive.

Many a time grandma's remedies were more effective but replaced by the medical fraternitys more expensive but less effective solutions.

Snake oil salesman I am sure were a dime to a dozen especially in an unregulated enviroment. But who knows if there were some real gems among them


Great information. I have no idea that there is a snake oil. I saw snakes being offered at the restaurants in South China. They put a variety of snakes in a big fish tank outside the main restaurant. I am pretty amazed by the use of snake oil.

John Evans

Udo Erasmus, in his book "Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill" (chapter 56), contrasts the snake oil salesman with the promoter of modern drugs and concludes that the former should perhaps be seen in a very different light than that cast by history.

Erasmus explains that snake oil contains high levels of the important omega 3 fatty acid EPA, which is usually provided in our diet by fish and fish oils. Rattlesnake oil apparently contains 8.5% EPA, while Chinese water snakes contain 20% - slightly more than salmon.

EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) has important anti-inflammatory qualities and, according to Erasmus, Chinese laborers introduced snake oil to European workers as a remedy for joint pain while working on the construction of the railroads in North America.

With the rapidly growing awareness of the role played by omega 3 fatty acids in human health, perhaps we shall witness the revival of the snake oil salesman?


What a great article. I particularly like the reference to the Balm of Gilead. To use a comparison of these oils of questionable efficacy to the Saviour in order to sell more indicates the level of scruples that these sellers had! Anything for a sale!


My grandmother in our province has a lot of stock of an snake oil... to cure some rashes, wounds and also they use it for massage...


Cool article! I am writing a site and part of our goal is to evaluate modern concoctions that make big promises (about hair loss). Some cost a lot and do very little, while others are cheap and as effective. It's pretty funny also to look at some of the things for sale today - maybe we're not as "advanced" as we think, lol!

Brian Leveres

Just love these old bottles and ads! Congrats, you have a great collection.


When my grandfather died about 20 years ago he lived on a farm and he had old bottles dating back to the late 1800's it was like taking a walk in the past he even had a revolver that was once owned by Jesse James...


A very interesting article, I'm very interested in history it would be great if more people started rediscovering these old home remedies and started passing it down to the next generation.


I can imagine that that jungle is a vault for antique bottles. This was a great, well researched, article - thanks Chuck!

Chuck Burns

I lived and worked in the Panama Canal Zone for four years when it was still a U.S. Possession. As a hobby I hunted for antique bottles. I found some fantastic old hand blown bottles that I still treasure today. Unfortunately the bottles with paper lables didn't survive the jungle so well. The paper was long gone when I found the bottles. But some have embossed labels. The stories these bottles tell is entertaining, promising anything from curing hair loss to curing worms.

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