Cyclotides are plant-derived peptides of approximately 30 amino acids that have the characteristic structural features of a head-to-tail cyclized backbone and a cystine knot arrangement of their three conserved disulfide bonds. This article gives a personal account of the discovery of cyclotides, their characterization and their applications, based on work carried out in my laboratory over the last 20 years. It describes some of the background to their discovery and focuses on how their unique structural features lead to exceptional stability. This stability and their amenability to chemical synthesis have made it possible to use cyclotides as templates in protein engineering and drug design applications. These applications complement the interest in cyclotides deriving from their unique structures and natural function as host defense molecules. Copyright © 2013 European Peptide Society and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.