"Snake oil" is a common name for a fake or over-hyped product. As defined by urban dictionary:
comes from the 19th-century American practice of selling cure-all elixirs in traveling medicine shows. Snake oil salesmen would falsely claim that the potions would cure any ailments. now-a-days it refers to fake products.
But according to "How Snake Oil Got a Bad Rap" (Collectors Weekly):
The original snake oil actually worked. Save this one for the next cocktail party; it will blow your friends’ minds.
In the 1860s, Chinese laborers immigrated to the United States to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. At night, they would rub their sore, tired muscles with ointment made from Chinese water snake (Enhydris chinensis), an ancient Chinese remedy they shared with their American co-workers.
and it was all those later salesmen that gave it a bad name.
Although the article contains an explanation and references -- including an article in Scientific American -- to make this point, are these reasonable? It seems reasonable to be skeptical of claims that involve old dates, practices of far off cultures, etc...