The search for a marketable, nontobacco cigarette has often produced some strange results. Among the better-known substitutes that have been tried are lettuce, cellulose and, most recently, cocoa beans.

Most of these experiments have met with limited and generally unenthusiastic acceptance even from smokers who want to be free of the demon nicotine.

Now a British company, Honeyrose Products Ltd., has entered the American smoking market with a concept that is actually centuries old - an herbal smoking mixture.

Honeyrose De Luxe cigarettes, which are billed as "alternative" cigarettes, use a blend of nine traditional smoking herbs that are specially treated with honey and fruit juice, then baked.

Originally invented in 1947 by a British alchemist for his wife who had bronchitis, Honeyrose is now sold in 17 countries. It made its American debut in December 1978 and is available in 30 states.

Carl Wolf, the U.S. distributor for the herbal cigarettes, was in town yesterday to kick off the product's entry into the Washington mass market.

"We think the American public is looking for an alternative cigarette - a nontobacco, nonnicotine, low-tar and noncarcinogenic cigarette," Wolf told reporters at the British embassy.

Apparently some of the American public are ready to change their smoking habits. Honeyrose Products had $4 million worth of sales in the U.S. last year, a figure Wolf said may reach $10 million by next year.

Beginning June 11, Honeyrose Herbals will start to make their way into area retail tobacco outlets, eventually reaching more than 2,000 stores in the next month. Capital Cigar & Tobacco Co. Inc. will be the Washington distributor of the Honeyrose line. A pack of 20 sells for $1.25 (both regular and menthol and a ginseng variety sells for $1.75.

Wolf is using several marketing approaches to Honeyrose, selling it primarily as a method to reduce or end consumption of conventional cigarettes. Since it contains no nicotine, Honeyrose is chemically nonaddictive, according to Wolf.

Although the company cannot make any medicinal claims, it emphasizes that coltsfoot, the main herb in the mixture, has proven relaxing properties, especially for bronchial problems. The lack of nicotine means that the smoker does not experience the same quickening of the pulse that comes from smoking tabacco.

The company has applied to the National Cancer Institute for full scientific testing of the cigarette.

Asked about the pungent aroma of a burning herbal cigarette, Wolf said, "Some people will confuse the small of burning herbs with marijuana, and some people might get excited over it."