The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is native to central Asia and has been cultivated for centuries in parts of the Middle East, Asia, the Mediterranean, South America, Central America, and even the United States. In some less suitable areas, such as the United Kingdom, the pomegranate can be grown outdoors, but the fruit will rarely ripen. The pomegranate plant is a large shrub, 2 to 4 meters in height, that is deciduous in Europe but evergreen in some tropical countries. Its oppositely arranged oblong-lanceolate leaves are 4 to 8 cm long. The orange-red flowers have 5 to 7 sepals (which persist at the apex of the fruit), 5 to 7 petals, and numerous stamens. There are a number of pomegranate cultivars with white or red flowers. The dark yellow to crimson pomegranate fruit is 6 to 12 cm in diameter with a leathery skin. The juicy pink or crimson pulp, which is both sweet and acidic, can be eaten fresh. The fruit is conspicuously divided into multiple compartments.
Punica was traditionally placed in the Punicaceae, a monogeneric family of two species found natively (1) from the Balkan Peninsula to the western Himalayas (Punica granatum) and (2) on the island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea (the extemely rare Punica protopunica). Punica is closely related to the Lythraceae, and in fact is now often included in this family based on molecular phylogenetic and other data, although it is distinguished from most members of the family by several specialized features, such as producing a fruit with a leathery pericarp (fruit wall) and seeds with a fleshy edible seed coat. (Vaughan and Geissler 1997; Huang and Shi 2002; Currò et al. 2010)
Pomegranate juice is used for drinks, wine, and syrup (e.g., "grenadine"). In the Middle east, the fruit is combined with walnuts to make a sauce (Vaughan and Geissler 1997). Recently, pomegranate has received a great deal of interest (and has been the subject of intense product development efforts and marketing campaigns) because of its diverse putative health benefits (e.g., Viuda-Martos et al. 2010).