Back in the days of America's Wild West, when cowboys roamed the range and people were getting themselves caught up in gunfights, a new phrase - 'snake oil' – entered the language. It was a dismissive term for the patent medicines, often useless, sold by travelling traders who always claimed miraculous cures for everything from baldness to snakebite.
Selling 'snake oil' was almost as risky a business as cattle stealing; you might be run out of town if your particular medicine, as you realised it would, failed to live up to its claims. Consequently, the smarter - 'snake oil' sellers left town before their customers had much chance to evaluate the 'cure' they had just bought.
The remarkable thing about many of the medicines dismissed then as 'snake oil' is not so much that they failed to live up to the outrageous claims made for them - those that weren't harmless coloured water could be positively dangerous. What's remarkable is that so many of the claims made for some of these remedies, or at least their ingredients, most of them, plant based, have since been found to have at least some basis in fact.
One, Echinacea, eventually turned out to be far more potent than even its original promoter claimed. Echinacea first appeared in 'Meyer's Blood Purifier', promoted as a cure-all by a Dr H.C.F. Meyer - a lay doctor with no medical qualifications. 'Meyer's Blood Purifier' claimed not only to cure snakebite, but also to eliminate a host of other ailments.
TRUE, FALSE OR NOT GIVEN
Q1. 'Snake oil' sellers believed their product was effective.