Snake oil has real medicinal value. It was used as medicine before the North American continent was on the map. Centuries ago the Chinese used an oil made from a cold water snake called Enhydris chinensis to treat joint pain and bursitis. It was introduced to the US by Chinese laborers who worked on the Transcontinental Railroad in the mid 1800's. There's evidence that the ancient Egyptians used it too. In the early 1700's the English had a patent medicine made from snake oil. Snake oil was sold here as a panacea in the early 1900's, but the products sold were probably more filler and adulterant than they were actual snake oil.
EPA can be derived in the body from other fatty acids, but it's much easier to eat in your food. The richest sources are fish: herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, pilchards, menhaden and sardines. Fish do not make their own EPA. They get it from eating algae like spirulina, which we also can eat. Plant foods don't contain any EPA at all.
Part of the reason it's easier to eat EPA than to make it in your body has to do with human genetics. Some people have the gene to make the enzyme which lets them convert ALA (alpha linolenic acid) into EPA. Other people have mutations in their genes that limit their ability to do the conversion. Diabetes and some allergies also limit a person's ability to convert ALA to EPA. ALA is an essential fatty acid, meaning that no humans can make it; we have to get it from the diet.
If we don't make it very well, and we don't eat much fish, we need to get our EPA some other way to keep our cell membranes happy. Many healthcare professionals recommend that we take fish oil. Fish oil contains 12-18% EPA. Salmon oil tops the list at ~18%. Chinese water snake oil contains ~ 20% EPA, whereas rattlesnake oil is said to contain 8.5%. Cod liver oil has more DHA than EPA and is best reserved for specific uses, like building baby brains or healing brain injuries.
The reason why some snakes have more EPA than others has to do with the temperatures that they live in. Snakes and fish are both cold blooded, so they have to function with their bodies at the same temperature as their environments. Omega 3 fats like EPA don't harden in cold temperatures like omega 6s do. They help keep cell membranes flexible. Flexible membranes don't get injured as easily, and are able to function better. Cold water fish, or cold water snakes, will have more EPA than those that live in warm sunshine, like rattlesnakes.
The next time someone tells you that a treatment is "snake oil", remember this. Public attitudes and language reflect our history, not our future. Science continues to give us reason to revise belief systems, erase myths, and sometimes to welcome old treatments back into the fold.