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All-Natural Snake Oil

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"Remember: People still sell snake oil. They just put pictures of leaves on the bottle now."

Do you want to instantly gain more consumers while keeping up a squeaky-clean image of environmental friendliness and care for the Earth? Need a quick, snappy buzzword? Simple! Use 'natural' in your product.

In business, the practice of pushing all-natural products for PR purposes is known as "greenwashing." If a major company has been accused of gross disregard for the environment, then they may find it cheaper to whitewash their image by donating to the Sierra Club, introducing a new, "all-natural" product line that is supposed to be more eco-friendly, and running a series of ads telling consumers that, yes, We Care, than it would be to actually fix their problems. Because Consumers Are Morons, people will buy into the company's new "green" campaign, even though they are still getting away with environmental destruction. This technique is so well-known that it even has a fancy philosophical name - the "naturalistic fallacy". Predatory Big Pharma can be a culprit, but they are also a common target of such campaigns.

Not entirely synonymous with the product peddled by the Snake Oil Salesman, but there are plenty of cases where they are one and the same. See also Spice Rack Panacea. Granola Girls and New-Age Retro Hippies often swear by this stuff.

Keep in mind that although words like "natural", "organic", and "wholesome" may be misleading as to quality, they may not be misleading as to any difference in the product. For instance, the yogurt industry uses "natural" to describe yogurts that don't contain gums, starches, added acids, or stabilizers even though those ingredients are technically natural. Also, the "natural market" of a supermarket is often the only place people with lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, or severe food allergies can find processed food they can eat without getting sick, especially in smaller towns that don't have a Whole Foods, or in the case of people who need or want gluten-free this or nut-free that, but can't afford the prices there.

In the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries, the use of the word "natural" tends not to come with strict legal requirements restricting its use. On the other hand, the use of the word "organic"note  is often legally restricted to products that are made without chemical fertilizer, antibiotics, irradiation, or genetically modified organisms, and meet other requirements focused on how it's produced (instead of what the final product is like). As a result, the word "natural" tends to get used in advertising more often since it doesn't actually require much and can be used in basically any way.

It may be interesting to note that, as a commercial trope, this is mostly a fairly recent invention, growing through the 1960s and 1970s. (Though if you look through really old newspaper ads from the early 1800s, you can find examples of this.) For most of the rest of human history, "nature" was widely considered to be filthy, disgusting, and chock full of things that want to kill and/or eat you. Had marketing forces stayed on-track, modern products would be touting their complete absence of anything found in nature, and extolling the health benefits (and exciting taste sensations) found from making food and health products with Pure Science.

As matter of fact, the very idea that there is any sort of meaningful difference between "natural" and "artificial" was largely disproved over a hundred years ago by German chemist Frederich Wohler, the founder of organic chemistry and the inventor of a process to chemically synthesize urea, a substance used in fertilizers that previously had to be distilled from urine.

This trope is not in play if natural is being used in the sense found in ideas like "natural law", where it means closer to "proper" and "fitting" rather than simply "not artificial". "Crime against nature", for instance, is (usually) using "nature" in that sense, not merely "crap humans didn't make" or "crap that happens on its own", otherwise every human action involving a tool would be one. The fact that the term has those two related but different senses is probably where this trope originates; using terms ambiguously is a classic ploy in advertising and propaganda. (If you are interested, C. S. Lewis' Studies in Words has a chapter on "Nature" that goes into the relationship in depth.)

People who believe Science Is Bad or Science Is Wrong, or who are swayed by the Appeal to Nature, will love these products, even though in many cases their results are down to the Placebo Effect. There are also strong echoes of the Romanticism Versus Enlightenment debate, with "nature" fans taking the Romanticism side.

Note that snake oil really does exist, and it is a part of traditional Chinese medicine. The Chinese snake oil is made out of fat of the Chinese water snake (Enhydris sinensis) and it is rich on omega-3 fatty acids, and it is an analgetic. It actually works in the purpose it was intended - to relieve joint pain and arthritis. It is not a universal panacea, and the Western snake oils made from rattlesnakes are vastly inferior. The modern concept of the Snake Oil Salesman came from those who sold fake snake oil, which lacked the medical benefit of the real deal. Contrast Scary Science Words.


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    Real Life 
  • The term "organic" is perhaps the most egregious version of this. While it does have a meaning, technically speaking, it provides absolutely no benefits whatsoever — numerous studies have proven it is not healthier, it is not more nutritious, it isn't tastier, and it is actually worse for the environment due to the use of inferior pesticides (which have to be applied more often, and are not specially designed to break down quickly) and because of lower yield, requiring more land to grow the same amount of food — and the number one cause of damage to the environment by farming is habitat loss. Ironically, one of the most commonly used organic pesticides is BT — the exact same toxin which is produced by some strains of genetically modified plants in order to deter insects. Organic food also can't be irradiated (by far the most effective and safe method for sanitizing food), so organic food often carries diseases and pests with it.

    The reason for the problem is that the organic movement's principles are based heavily on Appeal to Nature, though these days excused with things like the principle of care, which here means that anything "unnatural" is always too risky to use because it might do something bad. Which is deeply ironic, considering how one of the main goals of meddling (sterilizations, genetic modification, etc) is controlling potentially bad things. Natural is pot luck.
  • There are whole wheat doughnuts, and whole wheat pop tarts (the latter usually being sold at health food stores rather than Pop Tarts, and the former sold by Dunkin' Donuts).
    • The thing about whole wheat (or whole grains in that matter) is that they may have more nutrients than refined grains, but they contain phytic acid, which interferes with the body's ability to absorb many useful minerals. For some, eating whole grains raw may do more harm than good compared to eating refined grains, unless they are properly prepared (soaked, fermented, etc). One detrimental effect of phytic acid is tooth decay, which is made worse by the sugary toppings of most doughnuts and pop tarts.
  • Yogurt companies such as Actimel and Yakult are fond of boasting about how the 'good bacteria' in their products help reinforce your body's natural defences. The touted health benefits have not yet been proven, so the advertisers have to be careful not to include too-specific claims in their TV spots (many have been banned already as a result of this). There is no discernible difference between drinking "probiotic yogurt drinks" and eating regular yogurt; in addition, the concentration of sugar is unusually high at around 18-20%. As a result, nutritional authorities (notably the one within the European Union) are attempting to prevent the manufacturers boasting the health benefits, which are seemingly outweighed by the unhealthy ingredients. Yogurt is made by fermenting lactose into lactic acid, and this process is done by bacteria. So the probiotic yogurt is just those that did not kill the bacteria after fermentation.
    • There's also evidence some of the bacteria in yogurts can cause or promote cavities and tooth decay, especially if the yogurt is sweetened, meaning that you'd probably be better off just buying ordinary yoghurt and (if it's plain) adding your own flavourings of choice.
  • Several bottled water companies were torn a new one for claiming that their water is sourced from a unique spring in the Andes/Maine/France/wherever, when in fact, it is just ordinary tap water. This one was mercilessly debunked on Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.
    • Speaking of water, check your shampoo bottle. Odds are, one of the ingredients listed will be "aqua", which is just another name for water. On a lot of shampoo bottles, the intended market is multinational; you'll notice that the many North American shampoo bottles have at a minimum English and French on them, and usually Spanish as well to cover all three of the most common languages on the continent. Since so many of the ingredients of shampoo have chemical names that barely change from language to language (if your language's term for lye is "hydroxyde de sodium", "sodium hydroxide" will be understood), they often just have one ingredient list, adding parenthetical translations when necessary, and using terms like "aqua" that at once serve the faux-refinement purposes and will be understood by most anyone who speaks a European language.
  • Detoxification foot pads, with all natural ingredients like distilled bamboo vinegar. One ad claimed the toxins were drawn out through the feet just like the roots of a tree. For one: Bullshit. For two, that's not how roots work! For three, if you're curious, what these pads actually have in them is a dye that activates when moistened. By someone's sweaty feet, for example. And, if you're grossed-out right now, remember that everyone's feet sweat at night.
  • Ads for NRG claim that the drink contains "natural caffeine," which as everybody knows is completely different from the artificial caffeine in so many other energy drinks...except that it isn't, since virtually all caffeine used in energy drinks and soda-pop comes from decaffeinated coffee beans (and most of the rest comes from decaffeinated tea leaves). Caffeine total synthesis is possible, but producing usable amounts of usable product is so expensive that it's just cheaper to use the natural sources—and besides, the market for decaffeinated coffee and tea is so large that to do anything else is tantamount to turning down free money. The kicker to all of this? It doesn't matter whether it's natural or synthetic: every molecule of 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione is the same.
  • An ad for British Smarties tried to portray the sugar-coated lumps of chocolate as healthy because they don't have any artificial colours. There's a good reason for this: certain artificial colourings turned out to have some unpleasant side-effects when ingested and ended up being banned in most of Europe (Red Dye no. 5 and similar). Smarties had to change to natural colourings as a result, with the blue ones being replaced with white ones for a couple of years as they couldn't find a natural blue dye.
  • Herbal supplements for "natural male enhancement", which for legal and public decency reasons, don't actually say what qualities they enhance (likely because "male gullibility" is the only thing they really do enhance, and that's not exactly a killer marketing angle).
  • The Irish government has commissioned an ad campaign about investment in renewable fuel, which tries to portray solar and wind power as better than coal and oil because it's natural. In fact, such renewable power is exactly as natural as non-renewable power; sunlight, wind, oil, coal and nuclear fission all occur in nature, and all require artificial power plants to generate electricity.
    • Then again, wind and solar power don't create air pollution... While the technologies that allow their use do, and in amounts that sometimes give the doubts of whether it's really worth the effort. The semiconductor industry that creates the solar panels is notorious for its adverse environmental impact and the wind farms are the whole another can of worms: they use advanced ultracompact generators, which utilize high-power magnets and specialist oils that needs yet another industry to produce (with its own pollution), and they create noise, change weather patterns and are a hazard to the migrating birds. In the end, solar and wind power simply shift the environmental impact to an another place (often to China, where much of their components are produced), and with the wind generators even that is doubtful.
  • An ad campaign in the US tries to portray high fructose corn syrup as "All Natural" because it comes from corn, despite going through nearly as much processing as most bioplastics. On the other hand, many of its opponents try to present refined cane sugar as better for you because it's "more natural," which is true insofar as the chemical being sold hasn't been changed on a molecular level from its natural state, but it's still a lot of work to isolate it. Both ignore the bigger issue, which is that eating loads of sugar (whether from corn or sugarcane) is bad for you, period.
  • There is an ad campaign decrying xanthan gum because the name sounds "weird," and thus artificial, this despite the fact that xantham is a natural byproduct of sugar fermentation. Apparently, health is now determined by spelling.
  • Inverted example: Some of the engine oil ads sing the virtues of synthetic oils over the "natural" oils, since "natural" oils have things in them that cause wear in engine parts. Both varieties of engine oil are synthetic in some sense — engine oil has to be refined from crude oil, while synthetic oil is made from other sources of lubricants. Interestingly, synthetic engine oil has been made from banana oil in the past (such as in South Africa during the Apartheid years), allowing for a fake "natural" claim here, too. One practical reason for choosing synthetic engine oil is that it maintains its viscosity in extreme temperatures far better than conventional oil, so it lasts much longer between oil changes.
  • The chemical used to approximate the taste of almonds comes in both natural and artificial. The natural-extract version is more expensive than the artificial one. The trick? The natural extract comes from the pits of peaches and apricots (which, truth be told, are the closest relatives of the almond; the main difference between a peach and an almond is that you can't eat an almond rind and you can't eat a peach pit.) and contains trace amounts of cyanide that the artificially-created version does not.
    • One of the more interesting cases of a 'superfood' being worse than useless was found back in 2014, when US retailer Whole Foods was forced to recall bitter almonds from their shelves. Raw, wholly organic bitter almonds may be extolled as healthy, and might well be, if you ignore that they contain potentially lethal quantities of hydrogen cyanide.
  • The Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, maker of Natural American Spirit cigarettes. The healthiest, most ecologically responsible coffin nails you can buy. The vast majority of carcinogens in tobacco occur naturally in the leaf as it's cured, no additives necessary.
  • Computer parts firm MSI released a line of motherboards called the ECO series in 2014, which consist of power-efficient variants of existing boards from the company. Sure, it does save energy and reduce emissions by allowing users to turn off or suspend parts of the system, but whatever "eco-friendly" sales pitch MSI throws at would be moot considering the environmental impact in manufacturing those boards.
  • A UK supermarket promoted their vanilla extract (or it might have been vanilla ice cream) as being good and natural, containing no 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde. Which, if taken at face value, means that their vanilla product has no vanillin, one of the many naturally occurring molecules in vanilla extract that's responsible for its taste. While vanillin can be synthesized artificially (and indeed, it often is, as natural vanilla is quite an expensive spice that's typically reserved for more luxurious products as a result), vanillin made by reaction is no different to the vanillin in the plants.
  • One should also be careful, because "natural flavor" does not mean "made with what it sounds like it's made with". As this Cracked article sarcastically but correctly points out, if it says "natural flavor" on your orange candy, it wasn't made with oranges; if it had been, that would be a selling point. It also points out that natural flavor could be anything provided it wasn't made in a lab.
  • The advertising for many "natural" products makes a big deal about not using "refined sugar"; but are instead "fruit juice sweetened". The problem with this claim is that the "fruit juice" used is actually deionized fruit juice. This is essentially bland-tasting juice — apple, white grape, or pear — filtered to strip out all remaining flavour, colour, and nutritional content; leaving only the sugar and water content. That's right, it's nothing but sugar water under a different name. It's the exact same form of sugar as the supposedly "unnatural" refined version, just pre-diluted, and costing several times as much. The only reason that deionized fruit juice exists is to legally allow the product to advertise itself as "all natural". This is also often listed as apple/grape/pear juice extract.
  • Many manufacturers of snack chips (such as Frito-Lay) like to point out that their products are "all natural." They do have a better claim than much of this list - most chips are just potato slices/batter or cornmeal, fried in plant oil and salted. The problem is that there's more than enough oil to be fattening - Fritos in particular are so soaked in it that they quick-burn.
  • In Australia there is an ad for Raid bug spray, specifically the Raid Earth Options spray that claims that mums will like it 'cause it's all natural. As if that makes the poison any better.
    • A quick look at the material safety data sheet will tell you a vastly different story.
    • Natural, herbal insect repellents often contain geraniol (which is found naturally in herbs). If the bottle turns out to be damaged and your hands get covered with it, they will smell quite nice, then they'll itch, then you'll have some not-very-pleasant blistering for the next week or longer. But it'll be completely natural.
  • Providing the quote for this page is Cracked's list of "8 Health Foods That Are Bad For Your Health", which puts herbal supplements squarely at Number One. The article points out that, unlike pharmaceutical medicines, alternative and herbal remedies aren't regulated by the FDA, which means that some of them can be downright dangerous. PBS discussed this on Frontline.
  • Back in the days when they sold radioactive water to kill off germs and "restore your youthful vigor", the ads reassured potential customers that it wasn't dangerous to their health because "Radium is not a synthetic drug or medicine but a natural element, present in many hot springs famous for their recuperative properties."
    • Eben Byers was a wealthy playboy industrialist who would drink considerable volumes of "Radithor", a drink that contained frightening amounts of radium and thorium. On his death, the Wall Street Journal headline read "The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off".
    • Bonus: a healthy human being has trillions of bacteria in their body that provide benefits like helping one's digestion and immunological system, and you shouldn't get rid of them.
    • It's believed that part of the reason Byers (and the product's inventor, who also took it) believed it worked was because the radium really did energize his body... that is to say, it recognized that it was being poisoned and started working overtime to try to recover, which resulted in him feeling better. It didn't help that radiation generally doesn't cause actual pain until you're already sick from it - at which point Byers would naturally assume the cure was more radium.
  • The plastics industry supplies an aversion. Manufacturers and distributors of plastic resin routinely use the word "natural" to describe materials with no added colour. Outsiders might raise an eyebrow at phrases like "natural polystyrene," but this is done without intent to mislead — people who buy natural polystyrene know what the local meaning of the word is.
  • Several online personalities, such as David Wolfe and Mike Adams, present themselves as crusaders against large corporations in the food, biotech and pharmaceutical industries, whilst simultaneously selling quack remedies and outright useless devices that, at best, have the Placebo Effect. Mike Adams' website, Natural News, simultaneously advertised a product that was supposed to repel mosquitos carrying the Zika virus while claiming that the exact same virus was a hoax.
  • Many hair-care companies are now selling ammonia-free hair dyes, and claiming that these are better for you and for your hair. These claims seem to be mostly based on people's fear of 'chemicals', ammonia's poor public image, and its 'chemically' smell. It's true that ammonia opens the hair cortex, which can lead to the hair becoming dry and brittle, however, in order to dye hair, the cortex needs to be opened, and whether this is done by ammonia or by another substance makes no difference to the damage done to the hair. In addition, MEA, which is the chemical often used as an alternative to ammonia in hair dyes, cannot penetrate the cortex as well as ammonia so ammonia-free dyes often have worse coverage and end up looking more patchy, and wash out more quickly. Ammonia is also a gas at RTP while MEA is a liquid, so ammonia-free hair dyes require much more thorough rinsing because MEA will not evaporate from the hair after use like ammonia. Overall, this results in people buying a worse product for no reason other than the stigma against things that don't sound natural. note 
  • Skin-care products and supplements that contain collagen. One - so does Jell-o, and two - collagen from food or supplements doesn't go into your skin. It has to be digested into amino acids first, which then might go into your skin (or wherever else your body wants them). Collagen from cremes is unlikely to do any different.
  • The use of "bamboo" instead of "rayon" in fabric or yarn labels. Bamboo fibers can't be spun any more than wood fibers can, so you can't make yarn or thread of it. Yes, rayon can be made of bamboo - it's processed cellulose, and you could use any sort of cellulose to make it, along with some mildly nasty chemicals, and if you don't want to buy it, it's okay - but don't get duped into buying "bamboo".
    • Rayon or cellulose sourced from bamboo isn't particularly different from that sourced from other species of trees, and the chemical processing is required regardless of where it comes from. The main difference in using bamboo is that it grows faster than trees and so can have less environmental impact, if managed properly.
  • Some companies market Himalayan salt as non-GMO, even though impure sodium chloride doesn't have any genetic material to modify because it's not a living thing. Some even nonsensically market it as organic and chemical free; the former is nonsensical for the same reason as the "non-GMO" label, and the latter is nonsensical because salt IS a chemical, so by definition cannot be chemical-free.
  • Many people have jumped on the "anti-perfume" bandwagon because of the numerous companies which decry synthetic perfumes because of all the "toxins" they supposedly contain. The problem with this is that they completely ignore that it's the concentration which makes something toxic, and while some substances in perfumes may be toxic in high doses, the amounts actually in the perfume are nowhere near that level. They also ignore that synthetic perfumes often contain exactly the same chemicals as natural ones, just from a different source, so the health effects should therefore be the same. This is all to con people into buying the "natural" perfumes they sell rather than the cheaper synthetic ones.
  • Another inorganic organic ingredient spotted in the wild - corundum. Yes, some cosmetics firm apparently thinks rocks are organic.
  • Practically anything sold by Gwyneth Paltrow's goop brand, which has faced criticism and legal verdicts regarding the efficacy of its products several times.
  • The DeBeers Diamond Company has been known to use this strategy because artificial diamonds are cheaper and are almost always better-quality compared to a comparable "natural" diamond. This is in spite of the fact that there is essentially no visible difference between natural and artificial diamonds, and the main distinction between the two in terms of their creation is the disastrous working conditions needed to procure the former.
    • Inverted with the recent fad of "chocolate diamonds". Artificial diamonds have been created for over half a century, but mostly for industrial purposes. It has only been more recently that artificial diamonds could be made to compare with natural diamonds, mainly because of color issues, and it's still a difficult process. Common industrial diamonds are generally a dark color, which isn't a problem. "Chocolate diamonds" are nothing more than bigger versions of the grit used to saw through concrete, but their origins are never mentioned in the ads.
  • In recent years it's become fashionable to sell your hot dogs, ham, bacon and other meats that are normally cured as being uncured, with no added nitrites or nitrates... *Except for those naturally occurring in celery juice. Which is saying By "No", I Mean "Yes". Curing meat produces a particular flavor that people are accustomed to, so the presence of sodium nitrite or nitrate isn't negotiable, only whether you add it on its own or as part of a less-refined ingredient.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine in general is this. It can be pretty harmless and possibly helpful when it's stuff like acupuncture, breathing exercises, meditation, and dietary supplements. But it gets downright horrifying when you have endangered animals being hunted to near-extinction, priceless historical artifacts getting ground up, toxic substances haphazardly mixed-up into tonics, and massages that break bones or rake skin, all in the name of hokey spiritual cures that are often more likely to kill you than whatever ailment was bothering you in the first place.
  • Then there's the most suicidal of "all natural" fads: the untreated "raw" water craze. Who needs water that's been purified in water treatment plants? Just drink "all natural" water, which has such natural goodness as: cryptosporidium diseases, giardia, legionella, norovirus, shigella, campylobacter, copper, salmonella, Hepatitis A, E. coli and other fun contaminants. In fact, the interaction between humans and animals from the same water source is how epidemics and pandemics start.
  • Sunlight Dishwashing liquid once advertised itself as containing "real lemon juice", but had to change it after an incident in which Maryland residents who received promotional samples in the mail mistook it for a lemon drink and became ill after drinking it.
  • Perhaps one of the most horrifying quack cures out there is Miracle Mineral Supplement. This medicine is claimed to cure everything from autism to homosexuality, when in reality drinking it will quite literally kill you. MMS's actual name is concentrated Chlorine dioxide, or bleach.note 


    Audio Plays 
  • The Big Finish Torchwood episode "The Green Life" has Perfect Grub, which is advertised as being made from organic materials. It certainly is, at that. Giant mutated maggots which didn't make the cut. But it helps fight the signs of aging!

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert had a strip where Dogbert was selling "All natural and holistic" tech support and advocated putting tree bark in the CD drive. He then attempts to squash any fears by telling the caller:
    Dogbert: No, of course it won't damage anything; it's all natural!
  • The Far Side cartoon features an Igor-like character walking into a shop selling "unnatural foods".

    Fan Works 
  • One of the Parody Commercials in Captain Proton and the Planet of Lesbians advertises "Radio-Active Water" for killing germs and "restoring your youthful vigor".
    You might ask: is radio-activity dangerous to my health? Be assured that radium is not a synthetic drug or medicine but an entirely natural element, present in many hot springs famous for their recuperative properties.
  • Inverted in Rocketship Voyager. Because Future Food Is Artificial, Captain Janeway concludes that natural food is good for an occasional treat but not healthy in the long run.

  • From Troll 2: "It's made with sap. From the forest. It is a concentration of all the vegetal [sic] properties."
  • Parodied in the play and movie Proof.
    "It's organic."
    "What do you mean?"
    "You know, it doesn't have any chemicals in it."
    "Something can be organic and still be a chemical. Ever heard of organic chemistry?"
  • Life with Father has John getting a job as salesman for "Bartlet's Beneficent Balm," which is purported to treat everything from sore throat to "women's complaints." When he slips some into his mother's tea to cure her head cold, she becomes so violently ill that two doctors and the minister are called in, and later a neighbor complains that it killed the family dog. Also, Bartlet himself pays John not in actual money but in more bottles of medicine.
  • Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl: Beth has Adele buy a "natural" heart medication because it's cheaper and also claims pharmaceutical companies only care about money so they put out inferior products. Dora, who needs this, dies because it apparently didn't work.

  • Spoofed a number of times in Discworld:
    • In Witches Abroad, Magrat assumes that absinthe is good for you because it's made with herbs. She ends up with a good-sized hangover afterwards.
    • In Carpe Jugulum, the Nac Mac Feegle convince King Verence to drink a bowl of "brose" by telling him it's got milk and herbs in it. What they don't tell him is that the Feegles, who can drink their weight in lamp oil with no ill effects, drink their "brose" to get their spirits up before going into battle, and Verence ends up briefly turning into a Screaming Warrior.
    • Jingo gently winds up the tendency of shampoos to use "herbs" when the Watch investigates Snowy Slopes, the Man With the Steel-Toothed Comb, who has tried virtually every hair care product available in Ankh-Morpork to treat his horrendous dandruff, mostly on the virtue that they have herbs. Angua (who has some hair problems herself), muses that you stuff a bunch of weeds in a shampoo bottle, and you have herbs.
    • In Going Postal, Tolliver Groat makes all his own medicines using natural ingredients... like, say, arsenic and sulfur. His throat lozenges dissolve walls.
      • Groat also puts sulfur and charcoal in his socks, and soaks his trousers in saltpetre. After he's rescued from a fire, this leads to a doctor informing Moist von Lipwig "His trousers were the subject of a controlled detonation after one of his socks exploded."
      • He also has a chest warmer made of goose grease and bread pudding. Apparently he stuffs that down his shirt instead of down his throat but it keeps him going so whatever works.
    • Numerous of his books refer to a drink called Scumble, which, as is innocently said, is made of apples - well, mostly apples. However, it is one of the most strongly alcoholic liquors known on the Disc.
    • And Making Money features Splot, a hot drink made from herbs and natural ingredients. "But belladonna is a herb, and arsenic is natural". Its side effects feature the minor drawback that the mouth is unable to keep up.
    • The Discworld Companion has an entry on Jimkin Bearhugger's Homeopathic Sipping Whisky. Jim failed to understand why the slogan 'Every Drop Diluted 1 Million Times' failed to attract customers even though, in theory, even being in the same room as an uncorked bottle should have gotten you riotously drunk.
    • Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler and his doppelgangers sometimes use this in selling their questionable foodstuffs. Dibbler occasionally refers to his sausage-inna-bun as being "organic", which is true if it means "made from organs", and his Omnian counterpart Cut-Me-Own-Hand-Off Dhblah insists that "live" yoghurt is healthy, even as the stuff attempts to escape.
  • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix there are a number of students selling supposed brain boosting items and potions to the students taking their OWL and NEWT exams including potentially lethal fraudulent intelligence potions such as doxy droppings. Hermione spends some time confiscating as many as she can since in addition to some of them being toxic none of them work.
  • In Heavy Object, Volume 17 focuses on the trade of "immortanoid" supposedly an all-natural mineral which when used in baths grants longevity due to its unique radiation. In reality, it's a trans-uranic element produced in particle accelerators. The manufacturers used marketing, limited production, and a rare earths bank to create demand and pump the price.
  • Carmilla features a scene where a traveling salesman sells Carmilla and Laura some vampire repelling charms. Carmilla is, in fact, a vampire. Ironically, she herself swears that it works perfectly because it puts Laura's mind at ease, and makes her easier to feed upon.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Monty Python's "Crunchy Frog" sketch, the fine chocolates manufacturer takes umbrage at the police inspector's complaint that his inadequate labeling will have people there's some kind of artificial frog in his "crunchy frog" chocolates: "Mock frog!? We use no artificial additives or preservatives of any kind!"note 
  • Spoofed in a sketch on A Bit of Fry and Laurie in which a brand of cocoa is advertised as containing "nature's own barbiturates and heroin". Another sketch features a white-coated man masquerading as a doctor prescribing cigarettes, reassuring his patient that tobacco is after all a natural herbal ingredient.
  • The same idea is used in an episode of House in which the eponymous character—an actual doctor and not wearing a white coat—(jokingly?) makes a similar argument for cigarettes.note  The actor playing House is Hugh Laurie of A Bit of Fry and Laurie.
  • Parodied in the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, "Invasion of the Bane", with BubbleShock!. The advertisements all say, "Contains Bane. It's organic!" Nobody ever asks what Bane is. It's an alien mind-control parasite; organic, sure, but also very much alive, and pure evil to boot. Lampshaded when Maria criticizes that just because it says organic, that automatically makes it alright.
  • An episode of Eureka revealed that all the victims had eaten the chicken which came from a chicken farmer (who actually cloned the birds because it was less cruel that way) who fed the poultry a certain nutrient solution. She had no problem using the nutrient because it was natural, and therefore safe to use. At least until a doctor pointed out it was known to degrade people's brains. This was an organic chicken farmer who cloned only parts of the chickens for human consumption. Yes, organically cloned chicken parts.
  • An almost-case: on the DVD interview for The Mitchell and Webb Situation, David Mitchell and Robert Webb discuss a sketch which was intended to parody this kind of mindset by being set in an 'all-natural' abortion clinic, which advocates a more 'earthy' and 'natural' method of abortion as opposed to the too 'clinical' methods available (the alternative methods as described essentially being, in the words of Mitchell, 'drinking a bottle of gin and throwing yourself down the stairs'). They removed it when they realized that the sketch instead made it look as if they thought abortion and miscarriage was itself funny, which wasn't the impression they wanted to give.
    • They did have a sketch parodying this mindset on That Mitchell and Webb Look. A man comes in dying from a car crash; the homeopathic doctors suggest such amazing cures like getting a bit of car that hit him, diluting it in water and shaking it, pink quartz, and drawing some life line on his palm in pen. It doesn't work.
  • The Chaser's War On Everything has a stunt where they tried to see what people would try if they said it was "all natural" or a "new age remedy." They managed to get people to try such things as "Oil of Snake" and all natural "Bull Droppings." If you believe the show's DVD commentaries, the stunt was not a case of Selective Stupidity: everyone Chas talked to was fooled.
  • The famous "Vitameatavegemin" episode (actually called "Lucy Does a TV Commercial") of I Love Lucy featured this kind of product, advertised as an elixir containing concentrated "vitamins, meat, vegetables, and minerals". It promised to help people who are "tired, run-down, and listless". Storywise, the original elixir contained 11% alcohol (which was common for patent medicines and nutritional supplements at the time) but has somehow been increased to 22% by the company, making Lucy blind stinking drunk after several unsuccessful takes.
  • In the original version of Kath & Kim:
    "It's alright dear, I've used fat-free fat."
  • The whole bottled water thing was mocked in the "Mother Nature's Son" episode of Only Fools and Horses, with the bottled water coming from the tap and being bottled in a production line through their kitchen.
  • A frequent target on Parks and Recreation:
    • When Leslie is trying to push a tax on soft drinks through the Pawnee City Councilnote  in part because high-fructose corn syrup is unhealthy and fattening:
    Idiot citizen: What's so bad about corn syrup? It's natural. Corn's a fruit. And syrup comes from a bush.
  • Chappelle's Show had a sketch where Dave visits the Internet as a physical place, represented as a gigantic shopping mall. He almost immediately gets accosted by a shady guy who tries to sell him a penis-enlargement drug, who uses "It's all-natural, dude!" as part of his sales pitch.
  • Though it doesn't use "natural", the same thing happens on an episode of Corner Gas. When nobody tries Lacey's new menu items due to being too fancy or exotic for small-town Saskatchewan, Lacey sees a lot of marketing using the word "classic" and tries it herself. People immediately start ordering the exact same menu items they refused before, just because they now have "classic" slapped on. At the end of the episode they discover what she's been up to and chew her out for tricking them, so she apologizes and promises to not do it again... only for her to immediately start offering "old-fashioned" and "homestyle" menu items instead, suckering everybody right back in.

    Video Games 
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, one of the guests on the PLR radio show Intelligent Agenda is Waylon Mason, who uses the show to promote his "home remedies" and attack the other two guests (a pharmaceutical company spokeswoman and an HMO spokesman) as shills of Big Pharma. The show ends with him giving involuntary trepanations to the other two guests in order to remove the "demons that are controlling them."
  • Whatever Nigel West Dickens is selling in Red Dead Redemption, it doesn't do a damn thing. Your introduction to him involves John having to take him to a doctor as he bleeds out from wounds inflicted by angry customers. On the other hand, store-bought Snake Oil is a useful item. Must only be useful to someone who can use Bullet Time.
    • Dickens' snake oil does actually have a gameplay effect — it upgrades your Bullet Time, but also makes it so it acquires targets automatically, meaning you might accidentally shoot a civilian or innocent animal while trying to fight a bandit. In other words, it's not hazardous to your health, but to everyone else's.
  • In World of Warcraft Warlords of Draenor, you help a Goblin get some native Draenor plants that genuinely do help prevent aging... but he's too lazy to figure out how to market a whole plant, tosses them behind him, and just slaps a label on some serpent oil.
  • In We Happy Restaurant, this is done to a nuclear radiator off all things.
    It uses a small nuclear reactor to power itself, and produces radioactive burgers from nuclear wastes. We only use the freshest nuclear waste! You know the best thing about it? It's 100 percent environmental! It can recycle its own waste and use it as an ingredient. Totally green, perfectly recycles!
  • The herbal medicines in Pokémon could be seen as this. While they work as fine as their manufactured counterparts (and buying a Revival Herb is the closest you can get to buying a Max Revive) and are cheaper to buy, your Pokémon will become less friendly towards you after consuming one because they hate the bitter taste.

  • Modern MoGal: Snake Wine, which is actually a thing, but in this case it is just wine that has been used as bathwater by a Lamia girl. Medusa tries to do the same, with her snake-hair, but backfires.

    Web Original 
  • Dr. Atkins' Cholera Revolution!
  • In this article, a man puts the idea that 'all natural' is the same as 'good for you' to the test- by eating all natural soap, toiletries, pet treats and aphrodisiacs.
  • "The Disturbing Truth About Toxins" from Cracked: A guy tries to sell another guy pills. He tells the guy about how they'll get rid of toxins and how they're so natural they have dirt and rocks in them. He's not convinced.
  • A What If? entry discusses about siphoning water from Europa and selling it as bottled water. After a long note on the physics of siphoning and transporting the water, the entry mentions that there's no point in the plan, since the water from Europa is just the same as water from anywhere else, although it could work with the right marketing.
  • In the Furry Basketball Association, Brock Thiessen recalls purchasing Radithor (water with radium dissolved in it) and his great-aunt castigating him for the purchase, dismissing the drink as "deadly poison." He sells it to the local University chemistry department, and wonders if his aunt knew how right she was.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in an episode of King of the Hill, when trans fats are banned in Arlen ala 1920s Prohibition. Bill Dauterive believes that if the food he's eating is organic (or at least free of particularly demonized chemicals), he can eat as much as he wants. He proceeds to get even fatter as a result.
    • In another episode, Peggy buys a pesticide because it has "eco" in the name, and she figures the Government wouldn't let anyone put "eco" on their name if it wasn't ecologically friendly. A close-up of the box reveals that "eco" stands for "Economical".
  • An episode of the Dilbert animated series had his company killing people with herbal lozenges. "Anthrax is a bacterium, not a herb." Also spoofed in this Dilbert comic strip about "all-natural tech support". Scott Adams' commentary in one of the books: "It frightens me to think how many people believe 'natural' is the same as 'good for you.'"
  • One episode of Futurama offered a vending machine full of "Farm Fresh" crack.
  • An episode of South Park has a New Age "healer", appropriately named "Miss Information", who buys various trinkets and concoctions from Cheech & Chong and passes them off as Native American remedies, including "tampons made from the hair of Cherokee." When Stan tries to tell the healer that the treatments don't work, he gets labeled a smart-ass and receives a bunk lecture on how Native American remedies are more in tune with nature than Western medicine. The healer tells Stan that Western medicine is all about making money and not about healing, immediately turning to a customer, "That'll be $200."
  • In the Archer episode "El Contador", Dr. Krieger offers Pam, Cheryl, and Ray "Krieger Kleanse", an herbal tea made with "special herbs" he literally- figuratively scoured the globe for, and claims it will help them beat the upcoming drug test. Not only does he charge more than the actual drugs for it, but it ends up causing the three of them to start puking and experience a Mushroom Samba.


Video Example(s):


Wartlop's "remedies"

The gremlins' cures are at best useless tinctures, and at worst actual garbage or harmful things like fire bees, that they've ascribed mystical properties to and sell at outrageous prices.

How well does it match the trope?

4.08 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / AllNaturalSnakeOil

Media sources: